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Land Degradation Assessment in Small Island Developing States (SIDS)


Including Urbanization/Development process creating land degradation. Sustainable management of the natural resource base is a fundamental issue to support global environmental benefits provided by ecosystem services, and to ensure agricultural production and ultimately food security and livelihoods. Assessing Land degradation is a major component of effective sustainable land management particularly in Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Land Degradation is considered to be “…any form of deterioration of the natural potential of land that affects ecosystems integrity, either in terms of reducing its sustainable ecological sustainability or in terms of reducing its biological richness and maintenance of its resilience” (GEF, 2003). Globally it affects over 100 countries on all continents with Antarctica being the only exception (Springer, 2006).

SIDS are generally characterized by high levels of chronic poverty, largely ruralbased populations and heavy dependence on traditional agriculture and with specific reference to the Caribbean region, tourism based economies. In each instance land degradation has devastating effects on these countries such as significant structural constraints for economic growth, human development and environmental sustainability. At the same time, SIDS, possess unique characteristics, that further exacerbates the problems associated with land degradation, given the small size of the countries (in terms of both physical area and economy), limited infrastructure, distance from large international markets, high vulnerability to natural disasters low level of human resource development and increasing urbanization.

Small size, combined with, diverse soil types, topography, climatic variation, lack or in some cases archaic and poor land use policies limits the area available for urban settlement, agriculture, mining, commercial forestry, tourism and other infrastructure, and creates intense competition between land use options. It is estimated that of the 400 ha of degraded land in SIDS worldwide, 120 ha occur in the Caribbean region and 30 percent of the reefs in the Caribbean are at risk (UNEP/GEO).

In SIDS of the Caribbean, Land degradation has increased in the last 30 years related in some way to the following factors:

  • Economic: market forces, trade agreements, structural adjustments, national economic and land use policies, land tenure policies etc.
  • Social: urbanisation, immigration, population dynamics and growth, cultural changes etc.
  • Environmental: rainfall variability, water quality and quantity, access to water etc

More specifically, land degradation is caused by poor land management practices such as slash and burn agriculture, uncontrolled livestock grazing on fragile lands, poor road construction and unplanned or poorly planned settlements in landslide-prone areas
(Ahmad, 2011).

Annually colossal amounts of valuable top-soil is eroded away and washed into rivers and out to sea during heavy rains. Over time, the productivity of land for agriculture is lost, as is the productivity of coral reefs as they become blanketed by silt. This presents challenges in maintaining food security as well as economic stability particularly on the islands with tourist based economies.

Siltation of rivers increases the flood-risk in low-lying areas with potential for loss to life property and may also threaten agricultural productivity. Most aspects of environmental management in SIDS are directly dependent on, and influenced by, the planning and utilization of land resources, which in turn is intimately linked with coastal and marine management and protection. Consequently, land degradation also results in deteriorating water quality and wetlands particularly in coastal and marine areas.

In the SIDS of the Caribbean, and Latin America, Land degradation costs an estimated US$ 4 800 million dollars annually, and impacts approximately 125 million people within the region (UNEP, 2006). It directly impacts human livelihoods and survival, with significant negative implications for the most vulnerable groups in society. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), land degradation is one of the root causes of declining agricultural productivity globally; if left uncontrolled, it will exacerbate the problems of food security within the region