Global overview

The land area of the Earth covers a total of more than 140 million km2 - somewhat less than one-third of the Earth's surface. Land resources are finite, fragile and non-renewable. They include soil, which is mainly important for agriculture; land cover, which is important for the environment; and landscapes which are an important component of human habitat and welfare. Besides forming a basis for plant and animal life support systems and agricultural production, land aids in the preservation of terrestrial biodiversity, regulation of the hydrological cycle, carbon storage and recycling, and other ecosystem services. It acts as a store of raw materials, a waste dump and landfill for both solid and liquid waste, and a basis for human settlement and transport activities (FAO 1995a, Wood, Sebastian and Scherr 2000).

The 1992 Earth Summit took a step forward in bringing problems associated with land resources to wider attention. In Agenda 21 (UNCED 1992), Chapters 10, 12, 13 and 14 relate to land, covering the integrated approach to management of land resources, desertification and drought, mountain region development and sustainable agriculture. In the discussions of deforestation, biological diversity and freshwater resources (Chapters 11, 15 and 18), significant emphasis is placed on land as a productive resource, the importance of sustainable land use, and environmental pollution and conservation. Agenda 21 has remained a primary basis for land resources policy although a further landmark of awareness of land at the highest policy level is found in the review prepared for the UN Millennium Summit (UN 2000). This review identifies the threats to future global food security arising from problems of land resources.