Severe land degradation has strongly affected both people’s livelihood and the environment in Cape Verde (Cabo Verde in Portuguese), a natural resource poor country. Despite the enormous investment in soil and water conservation measures (SWC or SLM), which are visible throughout the landscape, and the recognition of their benefits, their biophysical and socioeconomic impacts have been poorly assessed and scientifically documented. This paper contributes to filling this gap, by bringing together insights from literature and policy review, field survey and participatory assessment in the Ribeira Seca Watershed through a concerted approach devised by the DESIRE project (the “Desire approach”). Specifically, we analyze government strategies towards building resilience against the harsh conditions, analyze the state of land degradation and its drivers, survey and map the existing SWC measures, and assess their effectiveness against land degradation, on crop yield and people’s livelihood. We infer that the relative success of Cape Verde in tackling desertification and rural poverty owes to an integrated governance strategy that comprises raising awareness, institutional framework development, financial resource allocation, capacity building, and active participation of rural communities. We recommend that specific, scientific-based monitoring and assessment studies be carried out on the biophysical and socioeconomic impact of SLM and that the “Desire approach” be scaled-up to other watersheds in the country.