|GATE - 1991/04 - Environmental NGO's (GTZ GATE Magazine, 1991)|
Workshop in Chiang Mai, Thailand
In view of the rapid degradation of soils in the developing countries, due to erosion, compaction or salinization - to mention just a few causes coupled with the increasing need for food, conservative management of existing land resources represents a growing challenge. How can sustainable land management be accomplished in practice? This was the question addressed by about 200 specialists who attended the international "Workshop on Evaluation for Sustainable Land Management in the Developing World" held from 15 to 21 September in Chiang Mai (Thailand).
The workshop was attended by scientists from national and international agricultural research institutes and universities, as well as representatives of other international organizations, associations and development aid agencies from some 50 countries.
While it is generally accepted that sustainable land management is necessary, the actual meaning of the term remains rather vague. The workshop had therefore set itself the goal of establishing the concepts and principles needed to evaluate "sustainable management", including quantification. The following definition of sustainable land management was chosen as a basis from which to proceed: "A package of technologies which together promote agricultural productivity, ensure an economic and social yield and protect or enhance the quality of the environment and the soil "
The problems were presented in papers delivered at nine technical sessions, which dealt with agroclimatic, environment-related, pedological, agronomic and economic guidelines, "stewardship" and methodology/ quantification.
The International Society for Soil Science (ISSS) was a co-organizer of the workshop. In the technical sessions, much time was therefore devoted to discussing soil-related question. Much was said about both the importance of organic matter in soil and the role of nutrients and the physical properties of soil. Soil cultivation and erosion protection methods were also discussed.
Only a few speakers addressed the actual theme of the workshop, i. e. how "sustainable land management" should be defined and above all how it should be measured. According to one of the papers delivered, "it is extremely difficult to quantify changes in land qualities, owing to natural or anthropogenic variability. There are many methods of measuring land qualities with regard to agricultural productivity (e. 9. the FAO Framework for Land Evaluation). But these measurements do not relate the land qualities adequatly to agricultural yields.
Production specialists have so far underestimated the importance of economic questions with regard to sustainable land management. The fact that three economic discussion papers were also presented must therefore be considered a success. However, they dealt mainly with macro-economic consideration.
An anthropologist pointed out that there are also other factors
which influence the acceptance of sustainable land management methods by
farmers. The following are some of the factors he mentioned:
- The farmers do not see the problem. - The technology works only under certain conditions.
Combatting erosion in the Phillipines.
- The farmer has a better technology at his disposal.
- The innovation creates new problems.
- Land ownership rights stand in the way of innovation.
- The innovation has a negative social impact.
In order to test the sustainability of alternative land management technologies their effects must be predicted. This can be done with models. By means of multi-factor model calculations it is possible to predict not only how the organic matter or ground water availability will develop, but also the economic consequences of management systems for entire catchment areas. A number of models were presented, including one that makes use of the "Geographic Information System" (GIS).
The workshop worked out recommendations for evaluating sustainable
land mangement: In view of the accelerating degradation of available land
resources, international efforts are urgently needed to create a framework for
systematic evaluation of the sustainability of land management systems. The
ISSS, FAO and other organizations, as well as those attending the workshop were
therfore invited to participate in the establishment and coordination of such a
Greater emphasis must be placed on the role of social, cultural, anthropological and economic factors in the acceptance of sustainable land management systems. An international working group should be assigned the task of examining proposed methodologies.
Statistical methods for verifying sustainability should be worked out. A network of long-term experiments should be set up to evaluate sustainable technologies.
Quantitative indicators and critical data sets should be developed. The methods of environmental accounting must be improved.