This paper discusses the relationship between state-driven developmental policies, considered as potential drivers of land degradation, and post-war territorial transformations in southern Italy, a disadvantaged Mediterranean region. Since the early 1950s, state-driven development policies aimed at balancing the socio-economic disparities between coastal and inland areas in southern Italy have sometimes impacted negatively on the quality of land. Three national and one European Union post-war policies have been considered in this study: (i) the Agrarian Reform promoting the realignment of land ownership and a new agricultural organization, (ii) the Cassa per il Mezzogiorno intervention stimulating economic development and reducing territorial unbalances, (iii) the measures for industrial recovery and settlement reconstruction after the 1980 earthquake in Campania and Basilicata regions and (iv) the European Common Agricultural Policy. The impact of these policies on soil resource depletion and land degradation in ecologically fragile, arid areas has been discussed using three case studies: Basilicata region, Sele river plain and Fortore river valley (both located in Campania region). The paper illustrates the multiple links between post-war economic policy and the downward environmental spiral observed in southern Italy as a contribution to the Mediterranean strategy for combating soil degradation, drought and desertification. It raises valid concerns about the negative implications of national and international political policies for land degradation in Italy which share resonance with similar developments in other countries.