Eritrean dependence on agriculture is highly substantial; and safeguarding the productivity of the land is a major concern [1]. Land degradation is inarguably the most critical environmental challenge facing Eritrea [2], especially in the critical areas where agricultural output is vital [1]. Land degradation is prevalent throughout the country, but is particularly manifested in the central, northern highlands and southern plateau [3].

For the period 2000-2010, 8% of the Eritrean land mass showed a declining trend in land productivity, 16% showed early signs of land productivity decline, while 12% of land cover was stable but stressed. These values were based on three indicators (i) land cover, (ii) land productivity (metric: net primary productivity), and (iii) carbon stocks above and below ground (metric: soil organic carbon (SOC) stock) [4].

In total, 36% of land cover showed land productivity in declining forms for the period 2000-2010. Land was primarily located in the western lowlands between Gash and Setit Rivers, and the southern part of Eritrea, where there is more intense farming. In addition, the eastern escarpment and coastal areas were experiencing declining and early signs of declining of productivity. The main reason for the decline of productivity is intense erosion along the escarpment due to deforestation and limited farming activities mainly in the northeastern part of the Eritrean escarpment [4].


The main direct drivers contributing to land degradation in Eritrea are nonsustainable agriculture, overgrazing by livestock, overexploitation of forests and woodlands, urbanisation and resettlement, and other natural causes.

The need to produce more food for the rapidly increasing population has led to the rapid expansion of agricultural land and the shortening of the fallow periods in traditional, extensive landuse systems, which have reduced the regeneration of soil fertility through natural processes.

In addition, resettlement of communities has meant that there is more pressure on forests and woodlands for firewood as well as grazing. Rangelands are also experiencing high grazing pressure, which affects overall rangeland productivity, and leads to rapid decline in tree cover.

Beside the direct drivers of land degradation, there are indirect causes such as population growth, poverty, land tenure and climate change. Most resettlement areas experiencing rapid population growth and density have shown evidence of land degradation due to increased pressure on natural resources [4].


Key policies and governance approach

The traditional Eritrean land-holding system contributed to the deteriorating state of the land of Eritrea. In response, the Government promulgated the Land Proclamation (No. 58/1994). This Proclamation is aimed at reforming the system of land tenure; determining land use, the manner of expropriating land utilised for development and national reconstruction; and determining the power and responsibility of institutions which will implement the Proclamation. The Government owns all land and allocates land fairly and equitably without discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or gender. The new system of land allocation and tenure is expected to confirm and reinforce the security of tenure and thus improve the incentives for better husbandry of land resources [2].  

The Eritrean Government is promoting the proper utilization and protection of land resources as the central contribution to agricultural development and to achieve multiple environmental and societal benefits, including food security, income equality, poverty alleviation, and resource availability. The Government is also substantially investing its domestic resources in agriculture and activities related to sustainable land management (SLM). As Part of its continued efforts for sustainable land management, the Government joined the Land Degradation Neutrality Target Setting Programme (LDN TSP) voluntarily [4].  

Eritrea has set LDN targets at national scale as well as Zoba level with ambition to reach LDN (Land Degradation Neutrality) for the entire country to align to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDG target 15.3). The most important concepts to be addressed through long-term action to achieve LDN include: (1) Land classification / land distribution; (2) Renewable energy; (3) Promotion of dry land products through sustainable land management and enhanced market access and trade; (4) Role of Private Sector; (5) Community Empowerment and Capacity Building; and (6) Financial Sustainability [4].

Policy measures adopted by the Government of Eritrea to achieve LDN includes the ratification of important environmental conventions, and the elaboration of national strategies towards meeting its obligations under those conventions, such as the National Strategy for Sustainable Development, the National Action Program under United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (NAP-UNCCD), the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, and the National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA). The Poverty Reduction and Food Security strategic documents also address strategic and policy issues on how to develop and manage agriculture without impacting adversely on the environment. All these contain land-related targets that are relevant to LDN [5].

The Ministry responsible for Land, Water Resources and Environment, and the Ministry of Agriculture, under which the UNCCD Focal Points reside, as well as the Ministry of Local Government provide political support and influence to support LDN initiatives. However, at national policy and planning level, the Ministry of Finance, and Ministry of National Development are responsible for ensuring that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and LDN are mainstreamed in the national development planning framework and sectoral policies and programmes [5].



It is widely recognized that land degradation is a serious and enormous problem that governments alone cannot tackle. Consequently, strong technical and financial support from both, the government and international partners, is required to achieve LDN. A number of ‘Investment Programmes and Initiatives’ directly related to SLM/LDN have been implemented in Eritrea with the support of different international development partners including UNDP, FAO, EU, IFAD, GEF, UNCCD Secretariat/GM and ADB, among others [5].  

To use available resources more efficiently in the country, it is recommended that a coordination mechanism is put in place to ensure better flow of information and coordination among projects and funding for SLM/LDN, involving stakeholders such as ministries, technical institutions, civil society organizations and partners. It is also helpful to promote mechanisms that enable those who benefit from environmental services to pay for them and provide economic incentives to encourage farmers and other land users to upscale SLM/LDN practices and invest in environmentally friendly technologies. Incentive and market based mechanisms can be used to facilitate such incentives and compensations to encourage SLM/LDN and the restoration of degraded land [5].  

Constraints related to the legal and institutional policies that influence the achievement of LDN were identified in the LDN Target Setting Programme in Eritrea [4]. They include: limited protection for woodlands that contain 1-3% of Eritrea’s terrestrial carbon stocks and form an important source of fuel wood for rural households; the powers and responsibilities of government institutions concerning environmental management in general, and national parks and protected areas in particular, have not yet been formally defined and proclaimed and there appears to be some gaps in this respect; and the lack of cross-referencing among policies and laws promoting environmental management and those promoting food security, job creation and poverty alleviation [4].


Initiatives and Development Plans

Based on the land Proclamation, a pilot project on sustainable land management was carried out in Zoba Maekel using a combination of remote sensing data and discussions with key local informants using participatory rural appraisal tools and methods. The pilot project has proved to be successful, and is expected to be expanded to cover the whole country in order to generate a much detailed and comprehensive land use plan for the country. Hence, a comprehensive land use plan for the country is in progress [3].


Goals and Ambitions

The Government of Eritrea is committed to achieve LDN targets both at the national and sub-national level. Specific targets to avoid, minimize and reverse land degradation are [4]:

  • Improve productivity of 10,954 sq km of cropland by 2030.
  • Improve soil organic carbon stocks of 17,803 sq km in cropland and grasslands by 2030 as compared to 2015.
  • Rehabilitate 17,853 sq kms of degraded and abandoned land for crop production by 2030.
  • Halt the conversion of forests and wetlands to other land cover classes by 2025.
  • Restore 79 sq km of indigenous forest land.
  • Increase forest cover by 10% by 2030 as compared to 2015.
  • Reduce the rate of top soil loss (soil erosion) by 20% by 2030 as compared to 2015 estimate.
  • Increase soil organic carbon by 10 t/ha in cropland achieved through SLM practices.

The following recommendations were identified in Eritrea’s Final Country Report of the LDN Target Setting Programme [4]:

  • Further assessment of selected hot spot areas may be required to fully understand the historical and current drivers behind observed land degradation dynamics using additional indicators, data sources, including field assessment and consultation visits.
  • Speed up funding requirements for fieldwork for assessment of hotspots, since in due course LDN hotspots may become a priority for action through LDN transformative projects.
  • Establish and strengthen appropriate arrangements involving strong participation of stakeholders for the effective implementation of LDN on a continuous basis.
  • Although the Ministry of Agriculture has an on-going programme of Conservation Agriculture, it is suggested that it must strengthen food security by establishing good conservation agriculture and agro-forestry practices, which can be up scaled to other areas of Eritrea. It is expected that this will lead to programmatic and structural change of the Eritrean farming system in those areas that have potential for increased cereals food crop production.
  • LDN can only be successfully achieved, if decisive measures are implemented to reverse the dynamics that cause continuing degradation of the natural resource base in the defined hotspots. There is a need of continuous public awareness of soil and water conservation and sustainable use of natural resources to mitigate the effect of land degradation.