Jeremy Schallner at New Mexico State University uses LandPKS for vegetation monitoring for research and extension. “We found LandPKS to be a very effective tool to communicate with private land-owners about looking at the landscape through this lens of land potential,” he says. The app provides a very simple way to collect vegetation cover data, and the automatic graphing on the phone makes it easy to interpret current cover, as well as changes over time.

Cover image of IRP report

Click to read the full 2016 report “Unlocking the Sustainable Potential of Land Resources: Evaluation Systems, Strategies, and Tools,” written by the International Resource Panel. The tools and resources below are referred to in the report. Please refer to the available links for additional information. We (LandPKS) have included hyperlinks for bibliography entries from the IRP report whenever possible.


  • The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations provides a tremendous and constantly increasing amount of tools, data, information and knowledge relevant to sustainably increasing food production. The Land Resources Planning Toolbox provides direct access to a wide variety of useful tools.
  • The International Soil Reference and Information Centre World Soil Information’s website features various tools and data to provide global soil information and currently serves as the primary global repository for soil information. ISRIC uses machine learning methods to create SoilGrids, a digital global soil mapping system whose prediction models use over 230,000 soil profile observations.
  • This website is continuously updated with land evaluation resources and examples of how land evaluation has been successfully used around the world.
  • Landon (2014) provides a concise, practical reference for much of the technical knowledge necessary to implement land evaluation and management.
  • This web portal provides access to a wide variety of tools, including automated sampling design, data analysis and reporting, and simple image-analysis tools that anyone can learn in under an hour. It also includes a Wiki, which, among other things, helps decide what remote sensing imagery is most appropriate based on objectives.
  • The ability to search for articles based on where the research was completed, rather than where the author’s office has been, is nearly impossible in Google Scholar and other bibliographic search engines. JournalMap allows users to search for articles based on location, as well as the biophysical characteristics of a location. 
  • The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Knowledge Hub contains a wealth of information about desertification, land degradation, and drought. It features a Drought Toolbox to support action on drought preparedness and a Capacity Building Marketplace for sharing knowledge and opportunities. In addition, the UNCCD Knowledge Hub contains country pages to connect individuals to local organizations and recommend tools tailored to national conditions.
  • UNEP is continuing to increase access to tools, data and knowledge resources, including through UNEPLive.
  • Global Agro-Ecological Zones: The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) have developed the Agro-Ecological Zones (AEZ) methodology over the past 30 years for assessing agricultural resources and potential. GAEZ allows users to access previously-run evaluations using a geospatial interface.
  • The World Soil Archive and Catalogue provides access to soil survey reports, maps, imagery and photographs from 344 territories worldwide.


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Better matching of land use with its sustainable potential is a “no-regrets” strategy for sustainably increasing agricultural production on existing land, targeting restoration efforts to where they are likely to be most successful, and guiding biodiversity conservation initiatives. Land potential is defined as the inherent, long-term potential of the land to sustainably generate ecosystem services.

This report provides an introduction to land potential evaluation systems, strategies and tools necessary to implement this strategy. It provides information that both private landowners and policymakers can use to increase long-term productivity and profitability, while at the same time addressing global objectives defined through land-related Sustainable Development Goals, and particularly 15.3 (land degradation neutrality). The focus of the report is on the inherent long-term (decades) potential of the land to sustainably generate ecosystem services, based on soils, topography and climate. In general, land that can sustainably support higher levels of vegetation production, including crop, forage and tree, has higher potential.

Short-term land potential (1-5 years) depends on a combination of long-term potential, weather, and the current condition of the land (e.g. fertility, compaction, current vegetation cover). Matching land use with its potential determines whether the inherent long-term potential is sustainably realized. Sustainability depends on (1) potential degradation resistance, and (2) potential resilience, which is the capacity to recover from degradation. Land with similar potential should therefore respond similarly to management. Policymakers have a tremendous number of opportunities to leverage land evaluations to both increase returns on investments, while minimizing risks of catastrophic failures, such as Britain’s post-world war II peanut scheme in Tanzania, and the United States Dust Bowl, which resulted from an ill-informed agricultural expansion in the early part of the 20th century.

Policy options for applying land evaluation include, but are not limited to:

  1. setting realistic, practical targets for land degradation neutrality,
  2. general land use planning to decide which lands should be reserved for agricultural production and
    biodiversity conservation,
  3. agricultural land use planning to sustainably increase food security and the profitability of the
    farming sector,
  4. land reform and redistribution to ensure that (a) objectives for equitability are met and (b) tract sizes
    meet requirements for minimum economic production units, and (c) providing new landowners with
    appropriate information on the best available management practices specific to their land,
  5. designing incentive and other programs to minimize degradation risk, and
  6. optimizing climate change adaptation and mitigation initiatives by effectively targeting resources to
    where the greatest returns on investments are likely to occur. The report provides an overview of
    existing land evaluation systems, options for making them more useful by integrating resilience, and
    for applying land evaluation to policy.

Download the full report.


Herrick, J.E., O. Arnalds, B. Bestelmeyer, S. Bringezu, G. Han, M.V. Johnson, D. Kimiti, Yihe Lu, L. Montanarella, W. Pengue, G. Toth, J. Tukahirwa, M. Velayutham, L. Zhang. (2016). Unlocking the Sustainable Potential of Land Resources: Evaluation Systems, Strategies and Tools. A Report of the Working Group on Land and Soils of the International Resource Panel. Unlocking the Sustainable Potential of Land Resources: Evaluation Systems, Strategies and Tools. A Report of the Working Group on Land and Soils of the International Resource Panel. UNEP.

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This paper describes how a new cloud-based Land-Potential Knowledge System (LandPKS) will allow land potential to be defined explicitly and dynamically for unique and constantly changing soil and climate conditions and to be updated based on new evidence about the success or failure of new management systems on different soils. The knowledge engine, together with simple applications for mobile phones, will also facilitate more rapid and complete integration and dissemination of local and scientific knowledge about sustainable land management.


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Herrick, Jeffrey E. “The Global Land-Potential Knowledge System (LandPKS): Supporting Evidence-based, Site-specific Land Use and Management through Cloud Computing, Mobile Applications, and Crowdsourcing.” Journal of Soil and Water Conservation (2013): 5A-12A.