Land degradation is a serious impediment to improving rural livelihoods in Tanzania and Malawi. This paper identifies major land degradation patterns and causes, and analyzes the determinants of soil erosion and sustainable land management (SLM) in these two countries. The results show that land degradation hotspots cover about 51%, 41%, 23% and 23% of the terrestrial areas in Tanzania, Malawi and Ethiopia respectively. The analysis of nationally representative household surveys shows that the key drivers of SLM in these countries are biophysical, demographic, regional and socio-economic determinants. Secure land tenure, access to extension services and market access are some of the determinants incentivizing SLM adoption. The implications of this study are that policies and strategies that facilities secure land tenure and access to SLM information are likely to incentivize investments in SLM. Local institutions providing credit services, inputs such as seed and fertilizers, and extension services must also not be ignored in the development policies. Some of the actions taken by communities to address loss of ecosystem services or enhance or maintain ecosystem services improvement include afforestation programs, enacting of bylaws to protect existing forests, area closures and controlled grazing, community sanctions for overgrazing, and integrated soil fertility management in croplands.