The responsible use of natural resources, as mentioned in Section 1.4, also can be described in terms of sustainable development: "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" .
More specifically connecting it with agricultural development, Herdt and Steiner  define sustainability as "the result of the relationship between technologies, inputs and management, used on a particular resource base within a given socio-economic context." Following Lynam and Herdt , Herdt and Steiner  argue for a system approach to sustainability.
An approach to sustainable rural systems from a land-use planner's perspective is given in . In this approach the term sustainability can be viewed, or be defined, from several angles. In most cases, its notion is based upon the protection of our natural resources because of their production and reproduction qualities for now and forever, if properly managed or used. There are, however, more dimensions in the term. Bryden  distinguishes at least into three meanings:
• Sustainability in the meaning of husbandry. In this sense, it is related to terms such as continuity, durability, and exploitation of natural resources over long periods of time. It also refers to certain methods by which land is managed—crop rotation systems, fallowing, etc.—all meant to make it possibile to restore the quality and abundance of soil and water systems. This meaning actually refers strongly to the long-run physical and economic sustainability.
• Sustainability in terms of interdependence. As described by Bryden, this meaning is strongly related to the spatial dimension of sustainability. It refers to such aspects as fragmentation (which has contradictory meanings for farming, nature, and outdoor recreation and is therefore an important land-use planning aspect), and relations between different land uses (e.g. cropped areas and seminatural vegetations). It is this meaning of sustainability that gets a great deal of attention in land-use planning studies, because there is still a great lack of knowledge, there are many uncertainties, and there clear policies often are lacking in this regard.
• Sustainability in terms of ethical obligations to future generations. This refers to the many observed losses and depletions of natural resources in combination with the expected increase in population. In particular, are depletion of fossil fuels and forests, soil losses, water and air pollution, losses of nature areas and of old landscapes, etc. It is clear that, in the field of better management and of restorations, much needs to be done to ensure the future of mankind. The term rural or rural area is already described in Section 1.3.1. Besides this description in terms of land use, rural areas also are considered to consist of specific local economies and to bear a specific social living pattern. It is than considered to be a specific way of living.
The term system most probably comes from systems analysis, a scientific field that was developed after World War II. In its most elementary definition, in the beginning, it was defined as "a collection of objects, having mutual relations." Because many systems have a relationship with their environment, a distinction was made between open and closed systems. Closed systems are considered to operate outside other systems, whereas open systems depend on other systems. In this case the output of other systems is often an input into another system (and vice versa). Later definitions of a system described it as "a collection of objects, having mutual relations, and so forming an autonomous unity" . In this sense, rural areas can be considered as open systems: They are composed of several objects that are related to one another and form a unity, but often undergo strong influences from the outside world.
Bringing the three words together leads to the following description: sustainable rural systems are areas outside the urban areas that form a unit and that are composed of specific land uses, in which the activities are performed in such way that a durable situation results regarding the social, economic, and natural properties of the area.
Scientists interested in the planning and management of land often have to struggle with two, seemingly contradictory, dimensions of sustainability: ecological conservation and economic existence.
The first form of sustainability refers strongly to conservation: to conserve the natural resources (clear water, air, and soils), to preserve plants and animals (biodiversity; gene sources), etc. In many cases, it goes even further than just conservation: it seeks a recreation of lost values. Examples are the creation of nature areas out of farmland or reforestation of pieces of land. Other examples are: restoration of high water tables in formerly drained lands and finding less intensive uses for meadows, thus restoring bird areas. Many more examples can be given for many parts of the world. Generally, this approach is a clear one, especially in terms of spatial consequences. Sustainability in terms of conservation is focused either on halting certain autonomous developments, retracking on past developments, or a combination of both. It can conflict with the other meaning of sustainability, but does not necessarily do so.
The second meaning, that of a durable socioeconomic existence, is often argued as a very important goal to achieve in order to create a sustainable rural system. In many places across the world, local economies are under strong pressure, notably so in farming. Surplus production, low quality outputs, worsening production conditions (lack of water or other important means), and rising production costs make it even more difficult for many people to survive at a reasonable standard of living in rural areas. This results in such things as outmigration among other effects. This dimension of rural sustainability often is felt when activities concerning land-use planning and management are at stake. A very important task for land-use planning has always been to improve the socioeconomic situation of the rural population.
These views seem to be contradictory. They are to certain degree, but they are also a challenge to mankind. Would it be possible to achieve both ecological and socioeconomic sustainability all at one time? And if so, what strategies would be needed for that?
Several planning and management instruments that can be important factors in sustaining rural systems development are:
• integrated plant nutrition systems,
• legislation on use of fertilizers (organic and chemical) and pesticides.
It is outside the scope of this Handbook to discuss the whole sustainability concept, but it should be clear that it is the assignment of this generation to strive for sustaining the agricultural and rural system.
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