Land in the Philippines is overexploited due to two simultaneous trends: population growth and land degradation. Population growth in the Philippines is consistently high, thus the quantity of available land per person is continuously reduced. As a result, the rural poor have been moving to the uplands where land is ill-suited for agriculture. Cultivation of these fragile lands has led to their ecological degradation, increasing land scarcity even further. As a result, many famers deprived from their sole livelihood have migrated to the cities, where they often end up as squatters in informal settlements [1].

These challenges are compounded by the highly skewed distribution of land. Whilst some wealthy landlords in the Philippines own large plantations, including the most productive swathes of land, about 70% of farmers are landless. Corruption and resource appropriation by powerful elites reinforce this situation. Rural farmer communities often cultivate land owned by the state and wealthy. This system contributes to livelihood insecurity, as it facilitates the acquisition of large land plots by foreign investors, and makes rural populations very vulnerable to evictions and land grabbing [1].

Land degradation is a serious problem in the Philippines. According to the updated Philippine National Action Plan to Combat Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought (NAP-DLDD) (2010-2020), about 45% of arable land in the Philippines has been moderately to severely eroded. This has triggered the movement of subsistence farmers to marginal lands with the hope of meeting their daytoday food requirements. Approximately 5.2 M ha are severely eroded, and 8.5 M ha are moderately eroded resulting in a 3050% reduction in soil productivity and water retention capacity. This situation will predispose the degraded lands to drought and other water availability problems [2].

The most common type of land degradation in the Philippines is soil erosion, which makes land less suitable to crop production or in some cases of severe erosion, results in the total loss of soil productivity [2].

Land degradation in the Philippines is estimated at about 37% over total land area. The LDN targeting process identified at least 11.13 M ha worth of land with negative trends. Of this amount, 2.89 M ha are in forest land category; 3.69 M ha are in shrub land/grasslands; 4.38 M ha are in the crop land category and 169,276 ha are wetlands [3].


Land degradation in the Philippines is caused by both natural and human factors. Natural causes include volcanic eruptions, topographic variations, and problem soils [2].  

Human factors include the country’s burgeoning population growth, with a population that already currently stands at 111 million (in 2021) [4]. This increase in population is accompanied by increasing requirements for food, clothing, and settlements [2].

To improve crop yield, extensive use of chemical inputs such as inorganic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides has been popularized and has left the soil very acidic and unfit for production in the long run. While the demand for meat and meat products continue to increase, grazing lands for cattle, goat and other ruminants are extensively utilized.  

The increasing demand for human settlement and other nonagricultural purposes has contributed to the great loss of prime agricultural lands. This resulted to the opening of ecologically fragile lands. Approximately 74% of the sloping uplands are actively used for subsistence farming in order to augment the demand for food supply and increase income.  

Moreover, people tend to migrate and occupy upland and marginalized areas, including the forestlands, and they practice slash and burn agriculture in order to meet their needs. The cutting down and burning of trees and grasses and basic slope cultivation without incorporating soil conservation management strategies would result to land degradation. Lands destroyed by gullying can even extend to the upper part of the watershed [2].

Despite the Philippines having many islands, Metro Manila remains the most populous region in the country. Aside from uncontrolled urbanisation, mining has also become a contentious challenge.


Key policies and governance approach

Under the 1987 Constitution, all public domain lands and natural resources in the Philippines belong to the State. Public domain lands are classified into agricultural, forest or timber, mineral lands, and national parks; only public agricultural lands are alienable or may be subject of private ownership. The Constitution recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples to their customary ownership of ancestral lands and domains, and the right to self-determination of the Muslim minority, through the creation of an autonomous region in Mindanao. The Constitution is supported by a host of laws to secure and protect property rights [5]. Additionally, it called for a new agrarian reform program to the benefit of land poor and landless people [6].

The government has adopted a number of progressive laws to curb poverty in the country; notably the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) in 1988 last amended in 2009. Based on the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, CARP seeks to provide Social Justice for landless farmers and farm workers through the redistribution of agricultural lands. By 2015, the government had distributed 4.8 million hectares to almost three million beneficiaries. The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) is the lead agency responsible for the implementation of the agrarian reform and the issuance of certificates of ownership. According to a directive by President Duterte, land distribution under the agrarian reform shall be finalized by June 2022 [6].

As part of the Philippine’s long-term vision “AmBisyon Natin 2040”, the Land Sector Development Framework aims to improve tenure security, build public confidence in the land administration, and modernize the land market [6].

In fulfilment of the country’s requirements of the UNCCD, the National Action Plan 20102020 was formulated to more effectively implement programs and projects to combat desertification and land degradation and mitigate the effects of drought in the Philippines. It is a land and watercentered action plan consisting of three longterm strategic thematic programs, namely: (i) Creation of livelihood to affected population; (ii) Sustainable use and management of affected ecosystems; and (iii) Formulation of a national adaptation platform to climate change for food security and improved resilience to natural disasters [2]

This will be achieved through short to medium‐term operational thematic clusters: (i) Sustainable Land Management (SLM) Technologies including Adaptation; (ii) Capacity Building and Awareness; (iii) Knowledge Management and Decision Support; (iv) Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought, and SLM Monitoring and Assessment; (v) Policy, Legislative, and Institutional Framework; (vi) Funding and Resource Mobilization; and (vii) Participation, Collaboration, and Networking [2].

Additionally, the Philippines committed to set voluntary LDN Targets by participating in the LDN Target Setting Programme in 2016. The LDN targets in Philippines build on the current commitment in the NAP-DLDD, the Philippine Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan as well as the National Climate Change Action Plan; leveraging on the multiple benefits that LDN provides from climate change to poverty reduction to support the aspirational targets of the NDC [3].

A substantive portion of the LD targets focus on forest lands and grasslands because these are mostly public lands and thus government has comparatively more control on land use compared to croplands which are mostly under private lands. These areas also provide vegetative cover to the upstream portion of watersheds that feed into irrigation systems important for agriculture. Targets on croplands aim to demonstrate effective strategies for improving soil organic carbon in crop lands showing signs of degradation, particularly in areas that provide the bulk of food production in the country [3].


Successes and remaining challenges 

Despite the country’s legislation and various land reforms, significant numbers of rural people remain landless, and there is a swelling urban population living in informal settlements. Outdated land administration laws, an inefficient land administration and adjudication infrastructure, and a poor land information system have resulted in problems of fraudulent, overlapping, and duplicative land titles and to widespread land-grabbing. This has led unsustainable land use and conflict over competing land uses [5].

Though Philippine legislation concerning indigenous matters is among the most progressive in Asia, in practice, indigenous peoples are marginalized and severely affected by eviction for plantation or mining operations and infrastructure projects. The implementation of legislation is challenged by overlapping authority mandates, conflicting boundaries, failure by Congress to provide funding allocation for implementation, the incomplete mapping of indigenous lands, and the recognition of property rights within the ancestral domains already existing and/or vested upon the effectivity of the law. This recognition of prior vested rights is critical for ancestral domain claims of indigenous communities as many of their claims are in areas with approved mining applications, titles of private persons and corporations, and other property or vested claims. Often, ancestral domains overlap with conservation areas, state concessions, or land that was distributed under the agrarian reform [6].

Rural-to-urban migration and lack of access to land and housing by the poor has led to the swelling of squatter colonies or informal settlements on public and privately owned lands in urban and peri-urban areas [5].


Initiatives and Development Plans

Over the past three decades, CARP has distributed 4.8 million hectares – 16% of the nation’s land – to almost three million beneficiaries. However, only approximately 53% of lands distributed was in the form of individual titles.

Recently, the Philippine government has embarked on a renewed push for individual titling to hasten transformation in rural areas. Around 750,000 people are expected to gain improved land tenure security and stable property rights through a project that will facilitate land titles for over 1.3 million hectares of land that was granted as part of the Philippines’ Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors approved the US$370 million ‘Support to Parcelization of Lands for Individual Titling Project (SPLIT)’. The project is designed to accelerate the subdivision of collective Certificates of Land Ownership Award and generate individual titles on lands awarded under the CARP. Improved land tenure security will contribute to poverty reduction and rural economic growth and strengthen farmers’ resilience against impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic [7].


Goals and Ambitions

The Philippines seeks to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality by 2030, with the following targets [3]:

  • Attain LDN in at least 60% (4.05 M ha) of degraded forest, shrubland, and wetlands by 2030 and achieve the balance by 2040.
  • Attain LDN in at least 50% (2.2 M ha) of degraded croplands by 2030 and achieve the balance by 2040.
  • Attain LDN in five (5) Pilot River Basins.
  • Strengthen consensus-based stewardship of protected areas and ancestral domains.
  • Improve Soil Organic Carbon (SOC) in chemically degraded agricultural areas.
  • Improve urban resilience to Climate Change and Drought by preventing further forest conversion in key watersheds and wetlands.
  • Limit conversion to artificial land -- only 5% of cropland particularly in key target areas/watersheds.
  • Sustain positive trends in land management (reversion from cropland to forests) particularly in key watersheds.
  • Land as a finite resource of the country must be properly documented and accounted for, taking into account the delineation of each parcel of land.
  • While there has been a framework that will serve as a guide in developing the land use plan of local government units, disintegrated spatial planning can still be observed in the Philippines. The administrative boundaries of each local government unit only limit the uniformity of how land is to be managed – at a national level. With this, the continuing call of lawmakers to forward House Bill no. 0158 in the 18th Congress, may pave the way for a Republic Act that shall be known as the National Land Use and Management Act of the Philippines. 


  • Contribute to poverty alleviation of lowland and hillyland dwellers through improvement in farm production and income.
  • Contribute to rehabilitation of degraded hillylands and preservation of agrobiodiversity.
  • Greater farmers’ participation and commitment to protect the natural resources addressing Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought.
  • Enabling environment improved through legislations and policy recommendations for the prevention of land degradation and improvement of longterm productivity and sustainability in seasonally arid areas of the Philippines.  
  • Increased knowledge and awareness of rural communities in sustaining the efforts to easily mitigate desertification and rehabilitate land degradation.
  • Enhanced local community and Local Government Unit initiatives in sharing responsibilities and knowledge in protecting the land and water resources.
  • Institutional capacity building and mainstreaming concerns on Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought.
  • Innovative sources of finance and financing mechanisms for sustainable land management including from the private sector, non government organizations and civil society organizations.