Addressing the Land Degradation – Migration Nexus: The Role of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification


Author: Sara Vigil, IOM and UNCCD

Land remains the most fundamental asset for the majority of vulnerable populations living in developing countries, as their livelihoods are directly linked to agriculture. Land degradation is a pervasive systemic phenomenon that can take many problematic forms, including chemical contamination and pollution, salinity, soil erosion, nutrient depletion, overgrazing, deforestation, and desertification.

Today, over 1.3 billion people live on degraded agricultural land, and most vulnerable populations tend to lack secure access to land as well as control over land’s resources.

Migration has long been one of the most important livelihood strategies available to households to cope with environmental change and relieve population pressure from drylands unable to cope with additional stress. Due to the consideration that migration may be motivated by better employment opportunities, ensuring sustainable land management and ecosystem restoration compatible with the creation of decent and attractive employment opportunities is critical in order to reduce and avoid DLDD-related forced migration.

Taking into account these different dimensions, it is important to acknowledge that existing migration dynamics are modified or exacerbated by environmental degradation, rather than uniquely caused by it. If no urgent actions are taken to protect, restore and rehabilitate vital land resources, desertification, land degradation, and drought (DLDD) will increase poverty and inequality, leaving many with few other options than to embark on perilous out-migration journeys.

This study results from the decision of States parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) to produce a study on “The role that measures taken to implement the Convention can play to address desertification, land degradation and drought as one of the drivers that causes migration” (UNCCD 2017a). The study was commissioned to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), who worked in partnership with the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).