"Local Perception of Land Degradation in Developing Countries: A Simplified Analytical Framework of Driving Forces, Processes, Indicators and Coping Strategies"
Juan Pulido and Gerardo Bocco 

2 LD processes and driving forces

Of the encountered causative factors, both proximate causes and underlying forces (Geist and Lambin, 2001*; Schreiber et al., 2012*; Bisaro et al., 2014), and on the basis of our own field experience, we consider some to be particularly important at the local level (Table 1). Following von Braun et al. (2013*), the proximate causes of land degradation are those that have a direct impact on terrestrial ecosystems, while the underlying causes are those that stimulate the proximate causes. Although we emphasize the local level, proximate and underlying forces operate at any level, and there is no clear demarcation between levels or between forces. Rather, a chain of connections adds complexity to the understanding of land degradation processes and factors.

It is well known that land degradation operates in a synergistic manner with other phenomena such as climate change, biodiversity loss and water scarcity, among others (Geist and Lambin, 2001; MEA, 2005; Maitima et al., 2009*; Agyemang, 2012*; Vu et al., 2014). One of the most recurrent synergies is, for example, population increase, leading to a pressure on the use of land, leading to deforestation and forest degradation, in turn leading to climatic variability and poverty. This is one vicious circle difficult to cope with and to reverse (Bremner et al., 2010; Nkonya et al., 2011). Local perception and knowledge of these links is important to understand the complexity involved in land degradation (Akinnagbe and Umukoro, 2011*; Agyemang, 2012*; Kassa et al., 2013).

Table 1: Simplified analytical framework of driving forces and processes involved in land degradation

Type of Cause

Causative Factor (Driving force)



Vegetative cover degradation; water and wind erosion


Acidification; aridization; biodiversity loss; bush encroachment; drylands expansion; fresh water reduction; physical soil degradation; pollution; salinization; sand drift; sandification; soil crusting; soil fertility decline.

Proximate Causes


Agricultural mismanagement; deforestation; land use change


Slope steepness and poor soils; demand for food; fires; forest resources overexploitation; inadequate waste disposal; land cover change; overfertilization; overgrazing; overplowing; illegal logging; urban encroachment.

Underlying Causes


Inadequate environmental policy; land mismanagement; unsuitable land use; insecure land tenure; tenure fragmentation.


Floods; droughts; lack of available environmental knowledge; lack of information about appropriate alternative technologies; unplanned land use change; unplanned urban growth; land use pressure; limited access to farm inputs and credit; livestock pressure; population pressure; poverty; breakdown of the indigenous (local) institutions; lack of local non-farm employments; demand of forest products.



Sources for Table 1

Major Focus

Contreras-Hermosilla (2000)

Underlying causes of tropical forest degradation

Geist and Lambin (2004)

Proximate and underlying causes in desertification-prone regions

Olson et al. (2004)

Proximate causes for undesirable land use change in tropical regions

Carr et al. (2005)

Proximate and underlying causes of soil erosion in developing countries

Zhang et al. (2006)

Proximate and underlying causes of LD in China

Rasul (2007)

Underlying causes of tropical forest degradations

Schreiber et al. (2012)

Proximate causes in desertification-prone regions

Bai et al. (2008)

Global studies on LD

Maitima et al. (2009)

Proximate and underlying causes for LD in African countries

Nellemann et al. (2009)

Underlying causes in developing countries

Saad et al. (2011)

Proximate and underlying causes in arid regions

Agyemang (2012)

Proximate causes in tropical regions

Kissinger et al. (2012)

Proximate and underlying causes of tropical forest degradation

von Braun et al. (2013)

Proximate and underlying causes in developing countries

Peprah et al. (2014)

Proximate causes of tropical forest degradation

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