The Political Ecology of Land Degradation

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


Land degradation, as a threat to smallholders in the tropics, attracts less attention than other global challenges. In addition, gaps between scientific understandings of land degradation and international policy regimes are problematic. We identify the three most significant debates including their different policy implications: desertification in the Sahel, nutrient depletion in Africa, and rural reforms in China. Using a political ecology frame across disciplines, scales of inquiry, and regional experiences, we nuance the often polarized scientific debate while seeking to bridge the gap between science and policy. Three main findings emerge: State-led rural reforms in China represent an important approach to land degradation; a renewed focus on agriculture and sustainability in development discourses opens new ways for tackling nutrient depletion with combined sociotechnological reforms; and a policy void in Africa paves the way for market mechanisms, such as payment for environmental services, that are insufficiently understood and put fairness at risk.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary


  • China, Africa, desertification, nutrient depletion, policy
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)295-319
Number of pages25
JournalAnnual Review of Environment and Resources
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Publication categoryResearch