The issue of land use is simultaneously influenced by economics, society and the natural environment. Economic development, along with improvements to infrastructure, can open up new opportunities for a region to market its products. However, such development can also lead to the loss of natural and cultural heritage. The danger of this is particularly prevalent where economic development occurs very rapidly due to increased concentration of only a few forms of land use. It is therefore the task of land use planning to offer an economic perspective, as well as to ensure the preservation of natural and socio-cultural values. In addition, it is necessary to assess the consequences of possible land use changes for the economy, society and environment, along with their reciprocal effects. The reliability and utility of such predictions can be significantly improved through the application of computer models and geographic information systems (GIS).

In the Chinese province of Yunnan, and particularly within the Xishuangbanna prefecture, there is a great need for planning instruments that could help towards a more balanced development of the area. The region enjoys both an ethnic and cultural, as well as topographic and ecological diversity. The connection to national and international markets has progressed very quickly and has had a dramatic effect on land use. The production of natural rubber plays a prominent role in the regional economy. Rising domestic demand and climatic requirement which limits cultivation to the tropics ensures limited supply and therefore high prices for this commodity. There has been a dramatic increase in the area dedicated to monoculture rubber plantations – to the detriment of floral and faunal diversity, as well as traditional land use and culture. At the same time, however, there are greater opportunities for the marketing of specific regional products, such as medicinal plants, spices, or ornamentals. This opens up a chance for income diversification and improvement among rural populations.

The goal of the LILAC project is to establish an instrument that can produce precise, spatially-specific prognoses of the effects of land use changes on the economy, society and environment, as well as evaluate such projections, in order to achieve a stakeholder and knowledge-based procedure for land use planning. This will be accomplished with the use of computer based models in all three fields and their integration within the framework of a GIS. For parameterisation of the model, data will be collected in the Nabanhe catchment area of Xishuangbanna. An additional aim of this project is to both develop and demonstrate the expertise of German researchers and businesses in land use and environmental planning under tropical conditions, as well as to strengthen their position in the environmental sector, which is becoming more and more important for development in China.