Despite the country’s small size, the terrain, climate, and ecology of Burundi are characterized by remarkable diversity. According to a report from USAID, the country is home to an estimated 597 bird species, 203 mammalian species, 89 species of reptile, 49 species of amphibians, and over 300 species of fish, including four species of lungfish. Burundi also has numerous endemic plant species, many of which are found in the Albertine Rift Montane Forests .
Forests play a significant role in the provisioning of ecosystem services in Burundi, such as providing medicinal plants to local communities and the supply of fuelwood for cooking and heating , . In the country, there are 3 major categories of forests and woodlands – Albertine Rift Montane Forest, Central Zambezian Wet Miombo Woodlands, and Victoria Basin Forest Savannah. The Albertine Rift Montane Forest, with high levels of biodiversity and endemism, is largely a tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forest, while the Miombo Woodlands and Victoria Basin Forest Savanna are a mix of tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas, and shrublands . The Kibira National Park in Burundi represents one of the last remaining intact stretches of Afromontane forests in the region, providing an important habitat for many endemic species . It is also a water catchment area for the hydrological basins of the Congo River and the Nile River .
Burundi also has a variety of aquatic ecosystems including marshes, lakes, ponds, and streams. The country contains over 1,180 km² of wetlands (5% of the country’s land cover), which are concentrated around Lake Tanganyika and the Ruvubu River in the East, and provide essential ecosystem services . Lake Tanganyika is one of the largest lakes in the world, with at least 1,500 species of wildlife, 600 of which are endemic . Approximately 8% of Lake Tanganyika is located within Burundi’s national boundaries and it is home to the country’s most important fishery, accounting for 66% of total fish exports .
Biodiversity is of paramount importance in Burundi, a country where over 90% of the population is dependent on biodiversity for agricultural products, fisheries, forests, and medicinal plants . But Burundi’s biodiversity is being lost. For instance, between 2002 and 2009, Lake Tanganyika experienced a 60% decline in fishery production, partially driven by climate change. Further, many of the country’s iconic species are at risk of local or global extinction, including the eastern chimpanzee, leopard, and the white-bellied hippopotamus .
The six major threats to biodiversity in Burundi are (i) deforestation and depletion of biological resources; (ii) overexploitation of animals; (iii) pollution; (iv) the proliferation of invasive alien species; (v) rapid replacement of agricultural breeds and varieties in use; and (vi) climate change. The direct causes of deforestation in the country include uncontrolled harvesting of biological resources, land clearance for agricultural purposes, mining activities, urban development, overgrazing and bush fires .
Key policies and governance approach
Burundi has been a signatory to various international treaties, agreements, and conventions related to forests and biodiversity . In 2000, Burundi adopted its first National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP), in accordance with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). In 2013, Burundi adopted its revised NBSAP 2013-2020, with the following vision "By 2030, biological diversity is restored, conserved and used wisely by all stakeholders, ensuring the maintenance of ecosystem services and securing essential benefits for current and future generations". To operationalize this vision, Burundi adopted 11 guiding principles, as well as five national priorities. The 5 national priorities are as follows: (i) Encourage the involvement and commitment of all stakeholders, including decision-makers in the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity; (ii) Put in place and use the knowledge, tools and effective techniques to stop the pressures exercised on biodiversity; (iii) Safeguard a set of ecosystems, representative of the national biodiversity; (iv) Maximize the benefits derived from biodiversity and the services provided by ecosystems; and (v) Establish a framework for participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building .
In addition, Burundi has a long-standing legal framework in place for environmental and natural resource management, which includes the National Constitution, the Environmental Code (2000), the Forestier (1985), and the Decree delimiting a National Park and four Nature Reserves (2000). The protection of the country’s forests and biodiversity is led by the Ministry of Environment, Agriculture, and Livestock (MINEAGRIE). The Burundian Office for the Protection of the Environment (OBPE) is primarily responsible for enforcing all environmental protection legislation. Further, the Burundian government is also working on several reforms, including the updating and implementing of the land law and the law on the creation and management of protected areas, and the drafting of the law on incentive measures for the maintenance of the integrity of protected areas, among others .
Successes and remaining challenges
Although the country is found to have fairly robust environmental policies and legislation, there are major gaps in implementation, partly due to the institutional challenges faced by MINEAGRIE. The main challenges are the lack of financial and qualified human resources, which impedes the government’s ability to implement international agreements, enforce environmental laws, and inhibits its ability to create and implement sustainable natural resource management programs and projects .
As the priority of the government and its main donors is food security for the population, the budget allocated to Burundi’s environment sector is modest, as agriculture is frequently prioritised . According to the World Bank, over the 2010–16 period, the average share of environmental expenditures in the government’s budget was just 1.6% , which is far too low to curb environmental degradation in the country . Further, the lack of financial and human resources capabilities in the country has resulted in, among other gaps, little to no biodiversity monitoring data since the 1980s/1990s, making it difficult to fully understand the origins of biodiversity threats and identify the best ways to address them in the long run .
Additionally, improved management of protected areas is considered a high priority for conservation of Burundi’s remaining biodiversity . As of May 2021, Burundi has 21 protected areas reported in the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA). However, there is a lack of tools, equipment and appropriate human resources necessary to ensure their effective management .
- Burundi needs to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of allocating and spending its limited resources while also securing greater resources for environmental protection and management.
- Invest in capacity-building activities for environment staff at the Ministry of the Environment, Agriculture and Livestock and for government officials at every level.
- Strengthen civil society – specifically organizations focused on integrated programs including environmental conservation.
- Support the government in strengthening implementation and enforcement of existing laws.
- Promote co-management of natural resources and benefit sharing arrangements with communities.
- Support food security, family planning, and economic growth initiatives aligned with biodiversity and forest conservation goals.
- Promote sustainable agro-ecology compatible with biodiversity such as organic farming practices, soil/water conservation and agroforestry.
- Support local communities in or near protected areas by promoting sustainable livelihoods.
- Ensure sufficient human and financial resources are allocated to protected areas.
- Improve the tools, equipment and appropriate human resources available, to improve the quality of management for existing protected area (e.g. through adaptive management and information sharing).
- Create new protected areas, including prairies and shrublands, the mountains of the East and the aquatic environments of Lake Tanganyika.
- Develop technical capacities for regular monitoring of the situation and changes in protected areas.
- Support ecosystems services valuations and/or other research initiatives that support conversation objectives.
- Support efforts to collect, share, and manage biodiversity data.
- Promote environmental education at all levels.
 REPUBLIQUE DU BURUNDI, MINISTERE DE L’ENVIRONNEMENT, DE L’AGRICULTURE ET DE L’ELEVAGE, Office Burundais pour la Protection de l’Environnement (2018). SIXIEME RAPPORT DU BURUNDI A LA CONVENTION SUR LA DIVERSITE BIOLOGIQUE.
 World Bank Group. 2017. Burundi Country Environmental Analysis : Understanding the Environment within the Dynamics of a Complex World—Linkages to Fragility, Conflict, and Climate Change. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/28899 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.