In Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, peri-urban livelihood strategies have increasingly become recognized as important survival mechanisms for a wide range of actors in the context of rapid urban population growth. Based on field research, which illuminates local actors' knowledge and perceptions of land degradation, this paper identifies some of the key forces that are currently shaping the process of peri-urban change. The paper seeks to examine the social, economic and cultural contexts of land degradation in peri-m-ban areas, with specific reference to recent developments in and around the bourgeoning city of Kano in northern Nigeria. Particular issues of concern include the competition for key resources and its impact on the environment, together with related implications for levels of poverty, livelihoods and peri-urban food security. Since the concept of land degradation is a social construction, with different meanings for different individuals, a more critical evaluation of how the knowledge, understanding and perceptions of local actors drive behaviour and affect land-use decisions at the micro-level is essential if sustainable environmental policies for the future are to be initiated.