Sustainable use and management of land resources depends on good intelligence about their location, their condition and how this condition is changing. A new review by David Dent and Barry Dalal-Clayton assesses the current status of land resources information, what information is used in land use policy, planning and management, and what information is actually needed. It also discusses some innovative methods and information systems that have matured during the past decade, including applications of digital elevation models, predictive ecosystem mapping, satellite imagery, airborne geophysics and land resource information systems.
The picture is uneven. The information wanted for exploitation of mineral and energy resources, smash-and-grab raids on forests, and the terrain and climate information needed by the military, aviation and shipping is better than ever. What has been neglected is fundamental information on renewable resources: soils, water and ecosystems, farming and pastoral systems, and their social context. Once-great institutions like FAO, the overseas survey agencies of the former colonial powers, and commercial companies that undertook major projects in land resources survey and development have been cut back or dismembered.
There are also contrasts country-wise: China and Brazil, have continued to improve their information and expertise; the Western World has privatised it; Eastern European countries in transition to market economies struggle to maintain capacity; and many poor countries that depended on technical assistance have given up. The reviews argues that we need to dig more deeply into the link between knowledge of the land and the ability to make good decisions about land use and management or, even, to see when a decision is needed but, on the world stage, the information needed for food and water security, adaptation to climate change and resilience against natural hazards is simply not there. For most of the world, the data we have are more than thirty years old and the capacity to interpret them has been pensioned off. The review concludes that there is an urgent need to put things right.
Click here to download a working draft of the review