Land degradation is a serious concern in Burundi, manifesting itself through the reduction in land productivity linked to soil degradation and infertility [1]. Around one third of Burundi’s land is considered as highly degraded or extremely degraded, according to MESA (2014) [2], [3]. The most degraded lands are in the centre, centre west, and along the western border of the country. Eight of the poorest regions of the country (Muyinga, Ruyigi, Gitega, Cankuzo, Kayanza, Kirundo, Karusi and Rutana), are also amongst the most degraded ones [3].

In the country’s Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) Target Setting report (2019), Burundi determined the state and trends of land degradation in the country by monitoring the evolution of the three indicators (land cover, productivity and carbon stock). Concerning land cover, between 2000 and 2015, forested area did not change significantly, decreasing by only 6 km² (0.06%). In the same period, pastures decreased by 520 km² (5.9%), the area of cultivated land decreased by 3,120 km² (31.14%), while artificial surfaces experienced a significant increase of 3,646 km² (95%) [1]

Regarding productivity, between 2000 and 2015, 12% of the country’s land improved its productivity, while a large part of the Burundian territory (64%) remained stable, and 22% of land experienced degradation in terms of productivity. Regarding the carbon stock, between 2000 and 2015, the carbon in the soil remained relatively stable with an improvement of 3.14%. In total, the report estimated that 7,261.4 km² of the country’s land is degraded, or 28.85% of the country's area [1].

Burundi’s economy is dominated by small-scale, rain-fed subsistence agriculture, which is the country’s primary source of food and income [4], employing about 90% of the labor force [5] and occupying over 50% of Burundi’s land area. Due to high population growth and a lack of alternative livelihoods, the amount of land available for subsistence agriculture is declining, placing land users at growing risk of food insecurity and forcing them to intensify crop and livestock production by adopting unsustainable land use and management practices [6]. Land degradation in the country is characterized by soil erosion in agricultural land [3], and is leading to a decline in agricultural production, loss of agro-biodiversity and contributing to food shortages, food insecurity, chronic malnutrition, land and social conflicts, poverty, rural-urban migration and increased vulnerability to climate change [6]. Soil erosion has compromised ecosystem integrity, eroded riverbanks, and led to nutrient loading of water bodies. Further, it is the principal contributor to the flash floods and landslides that occurred in 2014 and 2015 causing loss of lives and damage to infrastructure [2].

The impacts of reduced agricultural productivity, due to the constant loss of topsoil and nutrients, are already evident in Burundi [2]. For example, the coffee sector, which brings 90% of the country’s foreign revenue, has experienced severe soil erosion in the last 40 years, which has led to a two-thirds decrease in coffee production, pushing millions back into poverty [7]. According to the World Bank’s Country Environment Analysis, Burundi loses almost 38 million tons of soil each year and land degradation costs an estimated US$120 million per year or 4% of the country’s GDP (in 2014), as a result of reduced crop yield due to soil erosion. It is important to note, that this is an extremely conservative estimate as it was obtained using only the yield reduction for three major crops in Burundi (beans, maize, and sweet potato). In comparison, UNEP estimates that over 75% of Burundi’s agricultural land is degraded, and crop losses from such degradation are placed at US$400 million per year [8].


The direct causes of land degradation in Burundi include the search for new agricultural land, anarchic exploitation of woodlots, overexploitation of land, unsustainable land use and management practices, bush fires, overgrazing, monoculture, proliferation of diseases and pests, drought, and the flooding and siltation of marshes.

Indirect causes include human pressures on forest resources, extensive farming, rapid population growth and overcrowding, poor urban planning, low level of law enforcement, climate change, scarcity of arable land and the reassignment of green spaces [1].


Key policies and governance approach

To address the problem of land degradation in the country, Burundi has put in place policies at the national level and has joined relevant subregional, regional and global initiatives. Burundi has ratified the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and has adhered to the Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) target setting process. As a result, Burundi has set LDN targets for two periods (2027 and 2030), which essentially aim to reduce the conversion of forests to other land cover classes in the country by 2030 [1].

Policy instruments that contribute to Burundi’s commitment to achieving LDN include, among others, (i) the National Strategy and National Action Plan to Combat Land Degradation (SP-LCD); (ii) the National Action Plan for Adaptation to Climate Change (PANA, 2007); (iii) the Forest Policy for the sustainable management of existing forest resources and the development of new resources; (iv) the National Strategy and Action Plan for Biological Diversity; (v) the National Agricultural Strategy (SAN) which recommends several interventions related to biodiversity, in particular the protection of productive capital and the intensification of food production through the fight against erosion, and the fight against diseases and crop pests; and (vi) the National Agricultural Investment Plan (PNIA) [1], [3].

Further, Burundi's legal framework, based on the Constitution, shows Burundi's commitment to the preservation of the environment and the conservation of its natural resources, including its land. Relevant laws include, among others, Law No. 1/07 of July 15, 2016 revising the Forest Code, Law No. 1/010 of June 30, 2000 on the Environment Code, and Law n°1/10 of May 30, 2011 on the creation and management of protected areas in Burundi [1].


Successes and remaining challenges

There is a strong commitment from the Burundian Government to deal with the problem of land degradation, evidenced for example, through the national reforestation program and the country’s commitment to the Bonn Challenge. A strong commitment to combat land degradation has also been seen from Burundi partners, through activities related to landscape restoration and the protection of watersheds and wetlands [1].

Despite the government's strong will to make land degradation and soil erosion a national priority, the country’s Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) report highlights weaknesses to the country’s implementation of its legal and institutional framework on land degradation. Such weaknesses include a lack of law enforcement, a lack of financial resources to enable law enforcement, poor application of LDN measures, low collaboration of all actors involved in the field of LDN, and the country’s low involvement in international mechanisms. For instance, as of 2019, Burundi had yet to receive support such as from the Green Climate Fund, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Measures (NAMA), and the Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) Mechanism [1].


Initiatives and Development Plans

The “Ewe Burundi Urambaye” reforestation project, launched in November 2017 by the Government of Burundi, aims to contribute to reducing the effects of deforestation, and the fight against the degradation of Burundian landscapes over a period of 7 years. Through this project, trees will be planted in all the forests of the country, with the overall objective of contributing to the regeneration of nature in order to improve the social, economic and environmental conditions of the country. Three kinds of trees (forest trees, agroforestry trees and fruit trees) will be planted [1].

A series of World Bank-financed projects have supported the country’s efforts to address land degradation. The $4.2 million Coffee Landscapes Project transformed Burundi’s fragile environment by addressing the causes and consequences of land degradation. The approaches piloted were replicated and scaled up in the $55 million Coffee Competitiveness Project, the $30 million Landscape Restoration and Resilience Project and the $6 million Global Environment Facility Additional Financing. By 2023, a total of 192,117 hectares of degraded lands in 31 collines will be put under integrated landscape management practices.

However, 2,608 more collines are still degraded and will need to be restored to increase agricultural and pastoral productivity, and to build their resilience to current and future climate risks. The World Bank has committed to scale up activities nation-wide to cover all collines, starting with a study funded by PROGREEN, a global partnership promoting resilient landscapes. The new Burundi government has committed to invest more in driving out the root causes of degradation and fragility on all collines and lists climate change as one of its strategic priorities [7].


Goals and Ambitions

Through the Bonn Challenge, the Government of Burundi has committed to restore 2 million hectares of degraded land and forest by 2030. The country also intends to achieve SDG Objective 15.3 on the fight against desertification and the restoration of degraded lands and soils, with the aim of achieving a "world without land degradation" by 2030 [1].


To achieve Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) in Burundi, opportunities include [1]:  

  • Gain the support of donors for the development of and research for transformative projects or programs on land degradation.
  • Raise awareness of LDN amongst all actors in the field, the population and the local administration.
  • The appreciation of LDN at the international level through the UNCCD constitutes an opportunity to combine efforts to deal with degradation.
  • Promote agroforestry, agricultural intensification and erosion control.
  • Intensify agriculture, with improved cultivation techniques and methods.
  • Integrate agroforestry in forests converted into cultivated land.
  • Recover and reforest forest land converted to pasture.
  • Restore fertility to land converted to pasture through erosion control and the use of green manures.
  • Develop watersheds.
  • Reforest degraded areas, combining woody and non-woody species.
  • Restore soil fertility and increase crop rotation to fight against erosion.
  • Improve urban forestry.
  • Enforce the existing environmental legislation and regulations.
  • Integrate the population in forest management, including in protected areas.


[2] The World Bank Group (2017). Burundi Landscape Restoration Project (P160613). Concept Project Information Document/Integrated Safeguards Data Sheet (PID/ISDS).

[3] Green Climate Fund (2022). Readiness Proposal with FAO for the Republic of Burundi. Building the capacities of key Sustainable Land Management stakeholders to mainstream climate change in Burundi, and updating the Country Programme.

[4] Resilient Food Systems (2019). FAO trains farmers in Burundi to combat soil erosion through agroforestry and contour planting. [Online]. Available:

[5] International Monetary Fund. African Dept. (2022). Burundi: Selected Issues, IMF Staff Country Reports2022(258), A001. Retrieved Nov 29, 2022, from

[6] FAO/GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT FACILITY (2017). PROJECT DOCUMENT: Support for sustainable food production and enhancement of food security and climate resilience in Burundi's highlands

[7] Juergen Voegele, Veronique Kabongo, Arame Tall, WORLD BANK BLOGS (2021). Building resilience in the land of 3,000 collines: Rooting out drivers of climate fragility in Burundi. [Online]. Available:

[8] 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. License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.