Ethiopia has been facing serious land degradation particularly concerning soil erosion, nutrient depletion, and land use and cover changes due to natural and anthropogenic influences. In the country, land degradation occurred in about 228,160 km2 (or 23 % of total land area) between 1982 and 2006 , being a severe problem that affects agricultural productivity and food insecurity. Soil erosion by water is the most common form of land degradation in Ethiopia and it has accelerated over recent decades due to unsustainable land use practices resulting in substantial land degradation processes .
Studies indicate that the estimated annual costs of land degradation in Ethiopia ranges from 2% to 6.75% of agricultural GDP . A study of the economics of land degradation in Africa  reported that the net present value of avoiding erosion induced crop productivity loss through sustainable land management in Ethiopia would enable the country to increase its economy by close to 12.1% of the average annual GDP of 2010-2012.
In addition, the soil nutrient depletion and loss from agricultural lands resulted in annual aggregate crop production loss of 104 million tons with a market value of USD 48.35 billion at 2016 average weighted aggregate crop price .
Land degradation in Ethiopia is caused by the interaction of many forces. The drivers of degradation are classified as proximate (direct) and underlying (indirect) drivers. Deforestation, inappropriate land management system, use of dung and crop residues for fuel wood, overgrazing of pastureland, and natural conditions are among the proximate drivers of land degradation in Ethiopia.
The major underlying drivers of land degradation in the country include population growth, insecure land tenure, poverty, farmers perception and attitude, government policies and programs, institutional issues, rural markets and low agricultural inputs .
For the past decades, land use is Ethiopia has been unplanned and uncontrolled and without due regard to the land’s best potential use and consideration for conservation of natural resources. Land use plans are often lacking when expanding urban centers, industries, agriculture, and agro- industries. This has resulted in important wetland ecosystems, high potential arable lands, grasslands and forest areas being converted to urban centers and industrial sites .
Key policies and governance approach
In Ethiopia, the federal government is responsible for enacting laws for the utilization and conservation of land and natural resources. Since the 1990s, the Ethiopian government has undertaken various institutional reforms such as the Federal Rural Land Administration Proclamation No 89/1997, amended in 2019, which replaced the Proclamation to Provide for Public Ownership of Rural Lands of 1975 under which all land was nationalized.
As of now, the current Rural Land Administration and Land Use Proclamation has been in place since 2005. The main aim of this proclamation is to (i) strengthen the tenure security by abolishing the practice of forced redistribution of land, and (ii) to establish an efficient land administration and certification, and acknowledges the autonomy of the Regional States in administering land matters in accordance with federal laws .
The Ministry which coordinates the implementation of the Proclamations is the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MoRAD) of Ethiopia, both at the federal and regional levels. In 2010, the Land Administration and Use Directorate (LAUD) was established under the MoRAD. It has the duty of providing technical and financial support to the regions, while city councils have authority over land and building permits in urban areas .
Generally, in Ethiopia land is owned by the government where farmers have only the right to use and rent out part of the land for short periods, and urban residents can get access to land on a lease basis. Land security and absence of clearly defined property right is found to be one of the most significant factors that affect farmers’ decision to long term investment on land . To address the land security issue the Ethiopian government has implemented land registration and certification reforms on a grand scale in most parts of the country as an assurance to use farmland .
Successes and remaining challenges
In spite of efforts to formulate land use planning and natural resources management projects, the implementation has often faced lack of enforcement and regulatory mechanisms and lack of national institute to coordinate the projects. In addition, the implementation of the projects has been negatively impacted by insufficient awareness and sensitization among decision makers, lack of involvement of the major stakeholders, absence of coordination between different government age, lack of legal framework and limited implementation capacity among other issues .
However, experience in Ethiopia under the Global Mechanism of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has shown that small-scale investments and improved farm and community practices can form the basis for scaled-up national sustainable land management programmes. The Ethiopia Strategic Investment Framework for sustainable land management presented a strategy for scaling-up sustainable land management based on best practice. Ethiopia has established The National Sustainable Land Management Platform has been established and replicated at regional level. The project notes the importance of local involvement in design and priority setting, along with improvements in water availability and food production that can catalyze the spread of existing sustainable land management technologies as farmers learn from each other .
Regardless of efforts to reduce land degradation and it social, economic and environmental impacts, land degradation in Ethiopia remains the main development challenge since the country’s economy is highly dependent on land and land-based resources. .
Initiatives and Development Plans
Noting the magnitude of land degradation and its effects on rural food security and livelihoods of rural people, the Ethiopian Government has in collaboration with several international agencies been implementing a program of soil conservation and rehabilitation in the most exceedingly affected areas since the early 1980s. A number of programs and initiatives like Managing Environmental Resources to Enable Transitions (MERET), Sustainable land management (SLM), The Productive safety net programme (PSNP) and Land degradation neutrality project (LDN) are among the big programmes and initiatives that have been implemented to tackle the issues of land degradation in the country.
To tackle the unsustainable land-use practices, the Ethiopian government has been formulating a national land use policy and preparing a national integrated land use plan. The plan will facilitate coordination of allocation of land to avoid or minimize sectoral competition and conflict on land use and create a system that regulates land use in the country. The plan will align national, sectoral and regional demand for land and thereby protect biodiversity and environmental hot spots .
Goals and Ambitions
Ethiopia has set the following 9 targets to achieve land neutrality in its Land Degradation Neutrality National Report :
- By 2031, promote the implementation of community based forest management, forest landscape restoration with indigenous species, avoiding overgrazing, area closure and, alternative livelihood systems, and ensure the restoration of 427,730 ha of forest land lost between 2000 and 2010.
- By 2036, ensure the rehabilitation and improvement of the productivity of 21,359,490 ha of forest land by stopping uncompensated conversion of forest area
- Improve the productivity of 314,990 ha of shrubs, grasslands and sparsely vegetated areas by the year 2040 through avoiding overgrazing, promoting controlled grazing, and rangeland management/improvement.
- By 2040, rehabilitate and improve the productivity of 12,578,714 ha shrubs, grasslands and sparsely vegetated areas through stopping uncompensated conversion of permanent grasslands in to croplands, promoting controlled grazing, and rangeland management/improvement
- By 2031, ensure improved productivity of 14,193,615 ha of cropland by reverting negative trends of arable land deterioration
- By 2026 ensure improved productivity of 72,766 ha of wetlands and water bodies through stopping uncompensated conversion of wetlands into cropping or urban / industrial/infrastructure areas, in order to avoid depletion of carbon stock and critical biodiversity
- Take urgent and significant actions like stopping uncompensated artificialization /urbanization of arable lands, through urban densification and “building city on city” approach, and improve the productivity of 33,452 ha of artificial areas by the year 2026.
The Ethiopian Government has shown determination on issuing a national land use policy and supporting the preparation of an integrated land use plan for the country to develop necessary legal frameworks and well defined land use policies. The Government aims at finalizing the land use plan for implementation in its third Growth and Transformation Plan for the period 2020-20125 .
- Ethiopia has been implementing sustainable land management interventions like soil and water conservation, restoration of degraded areas through area closures, and implementation of sustainable land management technologies.
- Ethiopia has already implemented a number of programs and projects aimed at solving land degradation in the country. These include programmes such as Managing Environmental Resources to Enable Transitions (MERET), Sustainable land management (SLM), The Productive safety net programme (PSNP) and Land degradation neutrality project (LDN). Despite these efforts to reduce land degradation and its social, economic and environmental impacts, land degradation in Ethiopia remains the main development challenge since Ethiopias’ economy is highly dependent on land and land-based resources.
- Ethiopia has no national land use policy and integrated national land use plan. The country is using land in unplanned and uncontrolled fashion without regard to the land’s best potential use and without due consideration for conservation of its’ natural resources and safeguarding the environment. Expansion of urban centers, industries, agriculture, and agro-industries is occurring without due consideration to the potential of the land and without land use plans. Consequently, important wetland ecosystems, high potential arable lands, grasslands and forest areas have been converted to urban centers and industrial sites with undesirable environmental and social consequences.
 Le, Q. B., Nkonya, E., & Mirzabaev, A. (2016). Biomass Productivity-Based Mapping of Global Land Degradation Hotspots. In E. Nkonya, A. Mirzabaev, & J. von Braun (Eds.), Economics of Land Degradation and Improvement – A Global Assessment for Sustainable Development (pp. 55-84). Springer International Publishing. https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-319-19168-3
 Gebreselassie, S., Kirui, O. K., & Mirzabaev, A. (2016). Economics of Land Degradation and Improvement in Ethiopia. In E. Nkonya, A. Mirzabaev, & J. von Braun (Eds.), Economics of Land Degradation and Improvement – A Global Assessment for Sustainable Development (pp. 401-430). Cham: Springer International Publishing. https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-319-19168-3
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 Gebeyehu, A.H., Woldegiorgis, S.B., Belete, A.D, Abza, T.G., Desta, B.T. (2017). Ethiopia’s move to a national integrated land use policy and land use plan. Paper prepared for presentation at the “2017 WORLD BANK CONFERENCE ON LAND AND POVERTY” The World Bank - Washington DC, March 20-24, 2017. https://www.land-links.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/USAID_Land_Tenure_WB17_Ethiopia_Move_Land_Use_Plan.pdf
Land Portal. Anne Hennings, peer-reviewed by Echi Christina Gabbert, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Göttingen University, and Asebe Regassa, Department of Geography, Zürich University (2021). Ethiopia- Context and Land Governance. https://landportal.org/book/narratives/2021/ethiopia
Legesse, B. A., Jefferson-Moore, K., & Thomas, T. (2018). Impacts of land tenure and property rights on reforestation intervention in Ethiopia. Land Use Policy, 70, 494-499.
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Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. Ethiopia - Land Degradation Neutrality National Report. https://knowledge.unccd.int/sites/default/files/inline-files/ethiopia-l…