Land use and tenure

Land use and tenure

What is land use and tenure in relation to sustainability?

Land is normally defined as a physical entity in terms of its topography and spatial nature; a broader integrative view also includes natural resources: the soils, minerals, water and biota that the land comprises. These components are organized in ecosystems which provide a variety of services essential to the maintenance of the integrity of life-support systems and the productive capacity of the environment. Land resources are used in ways that take advantage of all these characteristics. Land is a finite resource, while the natural resources it supports can vary over time and according to management conditions and uses. Expanding human requirements and economic activities are placing ever increasing pressures on land resources, creating competition and conflicts and resulting in suboptimal use of both land and land resources. If, in the future, human requirements are to be met in a sustainable manner, it is now essential to resolve these conflicts and move towards more effective and efficient use of land and its natural resources. Integrated physical and land-use planning and management is an eminently practical way to achieve this. By examining all uses of land in an integrated manner, it makes it possible to minimize conflicts, to make the most efficient trade-offs and to link social and economic development with environmental protection and enhancement, thus helping to achieve the objectives of sustainable development. The essence of the integrated approach finds expression in the coordination of the sectoral planning and management activities concerned with the various aspects of land use and land resources.

Land resources are used for a variety of purposes which interact and may compete with one another; therefore, it is desirable to plan and manage all uses in an integrated manner. Integration should take place at two levels, considering, on the one hand, all environmental, social and economic factors (including, for example, impacts of the various economic and social sectors on the environment and natural resources) and, on the other, all environmental and resource components together (i.e., air, water, biota, land, geological and natural resources). Integrated consideration facilitates appropriate choices and trade-offs, thus maximizing sustainable productivity and use. Opportunities to allocate land to different uses arise in the course of major settlement or development projects or in a sequential fashion as lands become available on the market. This in turn provides opportunities to support traditional patterns of sustainable land management or to assign protected status for conservation of biological diversity or critical ecological services.

Key questions for this area

If you are studying or teaching in the area of land use, or are looking to add content to your unit, the following are some key questions you should be able to answer and/or consider:

  • In many countries the registration of land is underdeveloped and ownership is unclear, is this a problem that needs resolving?
  • How can all countries ensure that land is used sustainably? Consider from a developed and developing country perspective.
  • Should all land areas be under private ownership?
  • Should forests should belong to everyone rather than governments, private owners, or indigenous communities?
  • How does agriculture and agricultural practices impact on land?
  • How should various aspects of the land, including forests, soils, mineral deposits, water and animal and plant communities be appropriately managed? Consider the tragedy of the commons.
  • How does urbanisation affect the land?

Useful resources 

If you are interested in finding out more about this topic, check out our resources for inspiration.

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