Land degradation and poverty


Land is one of the few productive assets owned by the rural poor, and almost all such households engage in some form of agriculture. Over 2000–2010 the rural poor on degrading agricultural land increased in low-income countries and in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Although degradation threatens the livelihoods of the poor, this interaction is complex and conditioned by key economic, social and environmental factors. These factors also limit the poverty-reducing impacts of economic growth and economy-wide reforms. A comprehensive development strategy requires investments that improve the livelihoods of affected populations and regions, and facilitates outmigration in severely impacted areas.

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Fig. 1: The potential downward spiral of land degradation and poverty.
Fig. 2: Conditioning factors and the land degradation–poverty nexus.


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The authors acknowledge the departments and institutions at Colorado State University and East Carolina University that supported this research. The authors are grateful to A. Grainger for invaluable advice and comments on this research and work.

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Both authors contributed to the development of the paper. E.B.B. led the initial planning, research and writing. J.P.H. undertook the spatial analysis.

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Correspondence to Edward B. Barbier.

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Barbier, E.B., Hochard, J.P. Land degradation and poverty. Nat Sustain 1, 623–631 (2018).

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