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Land degradation in developing countries: what is the problem?


  • Patrick Webb


Based on a review of case studies from developing countries this paper argues that global assessments of land degradation should be interpreted with care. On the one hand, degradation is not a linear process that can easily be measured by static parameters. Positive environmental outcomes are often linked to the process of land use intensification, an outcome that depends on an interplay among historical, political and macro-economic parameters. The scale and time frame used in degradation trend analysis are therefore crucial. On the other hand, where degradation is current and severe it cannot be assumed that affected households see this as a major concern. While the management of land degradation is often a high priority as a "public good" (required to sustain food consumption for future generations as well as the integrity of global biotic systems), it can be a low priority at the household level. Food insecure households decide to arrest degradation or allow it to continue according to constantly shifting concerns and capacities that are only partially determined by the condition of the soil. Short-term needs may take precedence over long-term sustainability where investment constraints are high. This has implications for how the status of land degradation is documented, as well as for the search for appropriate solutions.

Suggested Citation

  • Patrick Webb, 2001. "Land degradation in developing countries: what is the problem?," International Journal of Agricultural Resources, Governance and Ecology, Inderscience Enterprises Ltd, vol. 1(2), pages 124-135.
  • Handle: RePEc:ids:ijarge:v:1:y:2001:i:2:p:124-135

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    Cited by:

    1. Patrick Webb, 2002. "The Dynamics of Food, Nutrition and Poverty in SE Asia," Working Papers in Food Policy and Nutrition 09, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.


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