Researchers have developed a new framework to assess the impact of land use policies on sustainable development in developing countries. The framework integrates environmental, economic, social and institutional impacts through the use of multiple influences and indicators identified by a range of stakeholders.
Land use patterns and changes are critical in promoting sustainable development (SD) in developing countries. However, successful implementation of land use policies to encourage SD is often hindered by lack of information on the actual impact of these policies. The EU's Impact Assessment Guidelines1 has boosted initiatives to assess the impact of policy before it is implemented (ex-ante), mainly through modelling, but there are few initiatives like this in developing countries.
As part of the joint EU project LUPIS2, the study developed a methodological framework for sustainability impact assessment of land use policies in developing countries. The researchers then applied this framework to model the impacts of different land use policies in a Chinese case study in the Taihu Basin, which is threatened by water pollution from agricultural sources. This was carried out in consultation with local stakeholders (researchers, policy makers, farmers) before, during and after modelling.
The study identified nine goods or services associated with land use or land use functions (LUFs). There were three for each of the SD targets: economic, social and environmental. For example, industry and services is an economic LUF, food security is a social LUF and ecosystem processes are an environmental LUF. It then identified one indicator for each LUF (an aggregate of indicators was considered inappropriate for this framework, as it would be too complex and not transparent). For example, rice yield can serve as indicator for food poverty and nitrogen leaching as an indicator for ecosystem processes.
In addition, the study introduced three (institutional) indicators for the likelihood that a policy will be successfully implemented. The impacts of three land use policy options in 2015 were then modelled: site specific nutrient management (SSNM), where fertilisers are applied according to the soil type, transplanting rice mechanically (rather than by hand) and converting arable land to trees close to rivers and lakes.
The study adapted well-established sustainability impact assessment models to the case study. The results indicated that in 2015, the SSNM policy option increased rice yields and improved economic gains. This required a greater input of nitrogen fertiliser, but it was mainly taken up by crops so nitrogen leaching was low. There was a negative impact on labour use: since more labour was required, there was a reduction in the number of people available for non-farming employment. In comparison mechanical transplanting reduces labour use, but also reduces income, so the best option may be a combination of SSNM and mechanical transplanting.
Creating buffer zones by converting arable land to trees was effective at reducing nitrogen and phosphorus leaching to water and compensation payments produced a positive economic impact. Buffer zones are also easier to legally enforce. In comparison, legal enforcement of SSNM is difficult and greater education is needed. Mechanical transplanting is not profitable, so would require subsidies for implementation.
By developing a framework to identify drivers and impacts of land use options, the study has provided important progress in assessing the impact of land use policy on SD.