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Abstract

In this paper, we argue that there exist no significant direct links between human populations and their environments and that the intervening processes create the context within which land degradation occurs. We examine some of the intermediate mechanisms through which mounting demographic pressure leads to soil erosion and the depletion of soil fertility. The focus of attention is on set of variables defined in this paper as the structure of landholding (size of holdings, fragmentation/ dispersion, fragility, tenure, etc.). How demographically-induced changes in the structure of land-holding affect land management strategies (investments and land use) is key to understanding land degradation. Traditional perspectives on population and agricultural intensification, such as those developed by Malthus and Boserup, are incomplete at best. This is because they fail to fully incorporate the intermediate linkages both to and from the changing structure of landholding. As a result, avenues for policy research and intervention have been limited. On the population side, the answer has been to control growth (mostly through family planning). On the natural resources side, the thrust has been the dissemination of resource-saving technologies. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications of this review for future research and policy action.

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