Adnan A. Hezri, Kum Yeen Wong

The increased global demand for land calls for difficult trade-off among competing needs at the global, national and local levels. Recognition of the potentially adverse environmental effects of land conversion has resulted in worldwide political efforts to implement sustainable land use strategies. In the past, however, land use has generally been considered a local environmental issue whose decision-making is under the purview of local and national authorities. This article unpacks key misconceptions in relation to the application of land use policies for sustainable development. It argues that although reshaping the spatial organization of land is essential to ensure the functioning of ecosystems, the decision on the optimal use of lands should respect the subsidiarity principle. This essentially means that the nation states – instead of external authoritarian pressure groups – decide on what is best for their bottom-billion citizens. The international pattern of land use change and the international campaign against the palm oil industry provide a telling example of the misrepresentation of the original spirit of sustainable development. With Malaysia as an
example of a country striving for sustainable agriculture practices, the article concludes by proposing a generic formula for sustainable land use with equal emphasis on development and environment.
24 July, 2015
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