In land issues, land is defined as geophysical earth, as territory, or generally as food and economic resources. Resource-driven notions of land have typically predominated in legal discourse. Older definitions of land were often topographic, yet they tended toward an emphasis on economic use-value. More recent definitions take ecological factors into greater consideration, including the subsurface sphere of biota, hydrological characteristics, populations of plants and animals, and settlement patterns and other human effects on the landscape. In the broadest sense, land issues and land rights cover geological strata and mineral deposits, bodies of water and subsurface hydrology, as well as terrestrial surface areas. Natural land units, as environmental entities bounded by geographical features, differ from administrative land units. Frequently the latter are divided according to historical, colonial, or political criteria that can be arbitrary from a geophysical standpoint.

Changes in land exploitation, settlement, and socioeconomic patterns are mutually interdependent. A classical notion derived from John Locke holds that resources should belong to those who add value to nature, an idea that has been interpreted as legitimizing the property rights of capital. Historically, economic and governmental systems have tended to alienate laborers, who occupy and work the land, from possession. Peasant land reform movements in the twentieth century aimed at a redistribution of ownership and control over land and profits from harvesting resources. Stakeholders in questions of land disposition and care include individual owners and title holders, corporations, transportation interests, international and regional associations, nongovernmental organizations, established residential communities, migrant workers, nomadic peoples, and indigenous tribes. Land use management and planning seek out ways of reconciling conflicting interests and agendas, and establishing guidelines and policies for rational exploitation. Zoning for production, conservation, mixed use, and other purposes allocates subdivisions of arable land, forest, and water resources into discrete parcels.

Approximately a quarter of a million plant species are known; some 7,000 out of 30,000 edible varieties have been documented as used for food and other purposes. In the southwestern United States, an estimated 375 plant species are used by American Indians. In some cases, plant species have greater importance for their cultural and spiritual associations and meanings than for food, energy, medicinal, or commercial uses. Throughout the world, sacred groves or other sacrosanct lands and waters are set aside by indigenous peoples and protected from exploitation and development. Many of these sacred sites are rich in biodiversity, and they often serve key functions in maintaining balance within the overall ecosystem.

In the Sacred Valley of Peru, the heartland of the Inca empire, researchers are mapping changes in the geophysical landscape with the help of new tools and old data. The area's natural vegetation has nearly disappeared, along with the original agroforestry practices of the indigenous inhabitants. Upon the arrival of the Spanish in 1532, the mostly Quechua-speaking planters in the highlands abandoned the terracing system of farm landscaping under which they had grown maize and potatoes (the potato, a starchy tuber, is indigenous to the Andes). The social structure of these Inca people, forced to work on Spanish plantations, was reorganized through forced relocation, and the population was decimated by smallpox; only since the late twentieth century has the indigenous Peruvian population approached precontact levels. During the nineteenth century, Europeans introduced eucalyptus trees. Planted at first for ornamental purposes on the haciendas, they gradually became an important source of firewood. In 1969 the Peruvian government began funding reforestation, and today eucalyptus plantations have replaced many of the native trees such as aliso, buddleja incana, and molle. Replacing these indigenous species with eucalyptus trees has had negative environmental consequences. The toxicity of the aromatic leaves leeches into the soil, the trees require a high level of water consumption, and wool-bearing camelids will not feed off the leaves, necessitating the planting of alfalfa and grasses for alpaca and llama fodder.

Nongovernmental agencies have successfully restored native-style terracing in the town of Cajamarca, and international research teams are now using remote-sensing tools including satellite imagery, geographical information systems for mapping, simulation modeling, and comparison with aerial photography from the 1930s to evaluate and plan further conservation efforts in the region. These new techniques combine ethnographic information with comparisons over time for areas where archival photographs or other historical data exist, and they utilize remote sensing technologies to plot the course of changing patterns of forestation and land use. Amazonian models are being adapted and applied in other regions where deforestation threatens to reach crisis proportions, as in Sierra Leone, Kenya, and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

The toll of species lost when megadiversity hot spots like Amazonia undergo massive, rapid deforestation is incalculable. The uncon-tained sprawl of new urban and suburban development projects like Brasilia, Brazil's planned capital city built in the midst of cleared jungle, is a dramatic reminder of the need for appropriate conservation measures as part of development packages. The incorporation of indigenous knowledge and local native people into projects is a required element in achieving a sustainable balance of biocultural diversity. Urban residents are also stakeholders in the land and in the maintenance of genetic diversity; the long-term viability of settlement depends on the maintenance of sufficiently rich biomass, as is found in mangrove swamps for example, as a check on climatic change and carbon dioxide— based global warming.

An important question for current research is whether biodiversity itself is vulnerable to climate change. Some one-quarter of climate changes result from human land use. Human activities affecting climatic conditions include the consumption of natural resources, deforestation and desertification, and the emission of fossil fuel waste. Larger populations in some developing countries can have more of an effect on global climate change than developed countries with smaller populations and more land. For example, the global climatic effect of resource consumption by India's middle class is greater than that of the entire population of Australia. With industrial carbon dioxide emissions rising and the pressure of economic demand driving a dramatic increase in clear-cutting of timber worldwide during recent decades, forest retention areas—sometimes called carbon sinks—are considered vital safety valves, serving as oxygen pumps for the entire atmosphere. Options for land use projects to act as a brake on global warming include reforestation (or "afforestation" in the language of the Kyoto Protocol), the large-scale avoidance of deforestation (as in Belize's Rio Bravo Preserve), and agricultural plantation development.

Current projections by the Nature Conservancy suggest that tropical forest regeneration, slowed tropical deforestation, and sustainable agroforestry plantations could offset fossil fuel emissions by 12 to 15 percent. Projects of this sort must take into account the social needs of local populations, especially in the poor rural south and other parts of the underdeveloped Third World, in order to be ethically justifiable, socially nondestructive, economically viable, and ultimately sustainable. Nongovernmental organizations like the Nature Conservancy purchase tracts of land to save them from development, thus saving forest resources as well as preserving wildlife by conserving its habitat. The Atlantic Forest Project in Brazil has purchased 20,000 acres of water buffalo ranch in order to restore it to forest land, while the Noel Kempff Project in Bolivia includes funding for the economic and community development of the poverty-stricken forest area there.

The sociological concept of diaspora has been adapted by ecologists and biologists to characterize the migrations of animals and plants, which often accompany or influence human societies. The biocultural process known as biological and cultural diaspora refers to the phenomena of parallel migrations by humans and other species, or of displacement from one environment to another, whether the movements are of urban migrant populations or transplanted flora and fauna. These migrations affect biocultural diversity and landscapes. The draining of swamplands affects wildlife populations through habitat loss, sometimes with drastic results for the food web. Aquatic wetland preserves sheltering migratory fowl are found in densely populated areas of the northeastern United States, where the need for preservation may be especially acute. The Jamaica Bay wildlife preserve near John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City is one such area, providing needed protection for wildlife in a place where humans and birds need to share the same flyway. Vector-borne diseases such as malaria can be deadly side effects of human-engineered climate and landscape change. In Malaysia and elsewhere, the clearing of tropical forests for road building, timber extraction, and other development projects has created open pathways for insect carriers of human disease.

Corporate and governmental policies aimed at maximizing profit through large-scale exploitation of resources conflict at times with the preservationist ethos of environmentalists or indigenous communities. Attempts to open dialogue and reach agreement among these constituent groups are still in the early stages. In Clayoquot Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, forestry companies are collaborating with First Nations (aboriginal groups) in an experimental effort in the practice of sustainable logging, returning control of the forest to its original managers. Corporations employ local Indians as loggers and forest managers, who in turn limit timber yields to small batches of premium product. This harvest will be sold in the highend marketplace, while the bulk of the rain forest acreage is devoted to preservation and regeneration. Whether such efforts can gain a foothold in industry remains to be seen. A small but burgeoning movement to promote fair trade products in the marketplace, such as the wholesale importation to the United States of organically raised coffee beans from experimental worker-owned plantations in El Salvador, is seeking alternatives to the inequalities of globalization. Such efforts are presently testing the marketplace to see how much of a premium environmentally and politically motivated consumers are willing to pay for products certified organic and for fair-trade labor practices. Whether the potential of this niche will be considered economically worthwhile by producers is very much an open question. Supply and demand will depend not only on price competition but also the general level and tone of interest in the mass media and social spheres, which can be generated through public relations and campaigns to raise consumer awareness.

See also: Agricultural Ecology; Biogeography; Conservation, Definition and History; Cultural Survival, Revival, and Preservation; Hydrologic Cycle; Indigenous Conservation; Organizations in Biodiversity, Role of; Population, Human, Curbs to Growth; Sustainable Development


Haberl, Helmut, Simon Batterbury, and Emilio Moran. 2001. "Using and Shaping the Land: A Long-term Perspective." Land Use Policy 18:1-8; Nyerges, A. Endre, and Glen Martin Green. 2000. "The Ethnography of Landscape: GIS and Remote Sensing in the Study of Forest Change in West African Guinea Savanna." American Anthropologist 102, no. 2:271-289; Shiva, Vandana, et al. 1991. Biodiversity: Social & Ecological Perspectives. London: Zed; Warren, D. Michael, L. Jan Slikkerveer, and David Brokensha. 1995. The Cultural Dimension of Development: Indigenous Knowledge Systems. London: Intermediate Technology.

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