Agriculture Land Management Technology : Improving Land Use

Identifying the causes of land misuse

The most difficult but most important step in the whole process is to identify factors that can be manipulated by government to reverse the process of land degradation and improve land use. A variety of causes may be identified: growing the wrong crop on the wrong land; the land tenure system; the pricing structure for agricultural products; subsidies; incentives; taxes; or even outmoded laws or social customs. Governments may find it difficult to remove some constraints and changes may have to be phased in over a period of time. However, even in the worst situation, where none of the basic changes necessary to overcome the basic problem can be made, it is important that the reasons for the problems be understood. Failure to do so can waste a great deal of time, effort and money.

Improving land use: the options

On the other hand, if governments understand why land degradation is occurring, it may be possible to introduce changes gradually and inexpensively into the agricultural system that will encourage farmers to take up more productive and sustainable forms of land use.

At best, this information will illuminate the strategies required to initiate a new conservation programme. At worst it will prevent countries embarking on new schemes which, because they treat the symptoms and not the causes, are likely to fail. Either way, the results will be beneficial and the options open to countries threatened with large-scale degradation will be clarified.

Implementing the improvements

Reforming agricultural strategies

Agricultural policies have a profound effect on land-use patterns. Decisions to subsidize the production of certain crops or inputs are, of course, intended to alter land-use patterns and to encourage producers to make their contributions in areas where there is an obvious national need. Thus countries with foreign exchange shortages seek to encourage the production of cash crops; those where food imports are high tend to encourage the production of food crops; but where powdered milk or other dairy products, for example, are available cheaply as a result of surpluses in developed countries, dairy production is discouraged.

The introduction of modern inputs, such as fertilizers and seeds, can radically improve land use - the increased yields obtained allow farmers to adopt more appropriate farming techniques that protect tire soil better and put new heart into the land. Land degradation rates then reduce.

These and other measures such as agricultural import restrictions and export subsidies must be carefully analysed to clarify their effects on land-use patterns and rates of degradation. Where the effects are detrimental to conservation, alternative agricultural strategies must be sought.

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