Land degradation and cover change in Uganda risks destabilizing the foundations of its economy, livelihoods, food security, health, and the quality of life of its inhabitants.

In Uganda natural habitat cover has significantly decreased within the last 40 years and native special are declining. The Government has recognized land degradation as a major hindrance to sustainable growth in agriculture, natural resource productivity and national economic development. In Uganda, natural resources contribute over 50% of the National Gross Domestic Product. Land degradation is a major thread undermining the future productivity growth in agriculture and forestry sectors in Uganda, due to the limited scope for bringing additional land resources into production [1].

For a long time, cropland has remained as the main land-use/cover in Uganda, especially in the central, eastern and western regions. Most of Uganda’s land is characterized by stable, unstressed to increased land productivity. However, areas close to major city centers are declining. In addition, approximately 20% of the country has been identified as land degradation hot spots[1].


In general, climate change, deforestation, and agricultural expansion are the main drivers of land degradation in Uganda. With an enormous population increase, the pressure on land is increasing [2]. In addition, weak enforcement of laws and regulations indirectly drive land degradation.

The specific drivers in different geographical regions vary. For example, the land degradation in the Lake Albert region is driven by deforestation, overgrazing, bush burning and infrastructure development related to oil extraction and mining among other factors. In Lake Kyoga the drivers of land degradations include unregulated charcoal production and fuel wood extraction. In the Highlands, that accommodate 40% of the population, land degradation is driven by steep slopes, use of marginal land and  fragmentation. In the Upper Nile region land degradation is indirectly driven by conflicts[1].

The socioeconomic reasons for land degradation and low productivity of small-scale farms nationally have been summarized as (i) poverty and land fragmentation leading to over-exploitation of the land with inadequate soil and water conservation practices, (ii) Increasing rural population densities with few non-farm income opportunities, (iii) low levels of commodity trade and the production of lower value commodities, reducing incentives to invest in the soil, (iv) little farmer knowledge of improved agricultural technologies, insufficient agricultural research that takes into account the needs and resource constraints of farmers, and a lack of effective agricultural extension, and (v) inappropriate farming practices/ systems including deforestation, bush burning and overgrazing [3].


Key policies and governance approach

Land is at the center of the constitutional and legal discourse in Uganda, drawing legitimacy from historical as well as contemporary demands [2]. Article 237 (1) of the 1995 Constitution, states that land belongs to the citizens of Uganda, making Uganda one of the few States in Africa, to vest the ultimate ownership of land, as property, in its citizens. With the National Land Policy of 2013, Uganda wants to ensure an efficient, equitable and optimal utilization and management of Uganda’s land resources for poverty reduction, wealth creation and overall socio-economic development [2].

Many of the national planning frameworks put emphasis on the restoration of degraded wetlands, hill tops, rangelands and other fragile ecosystems. In order to achieve LDN, Uganda needs to strengthen its regulatory framework. Among the key policy frameworks to address are: (a) Uganda Vision (2040); (b) National Development Plan (2015-2020); (c) National Environment Management Policy (1994- under review); (d) Climate Change Policy (2013); (e) Uganda Strategic Investment Framework for Sustainable Land Management (2010 – 2020); (f) National Agriculture Policy (2010); (g) Uganda Forestry Policy (2001); (h) National Land Policy (2009); and (h) National Land Use Policy(2007)[1].

In 2018, Uganda launched it’s Land Degradation Neutrality Target Setting programme (LDN), a partnership initiative implemented by the Secretariat and the Global Mechanism of the UNCCD, to tackle the issues of land degradation.


Successes and remaining challenges  

The Government is motivated to address the issues of land degradation and has set forward concreate and ambitions LDN targets. However, the benefits of the excising legislative frameworks have not been fully realized to address LDN due to weaknesses in implementation and enforcement. Policy interventions and institutions with environmental mandates have been established, but the results have been limited. Challenges are identified especially in the areas of environmental governance, limited awareness, lack of awareness on existing policies including land ownership and inadequate land use planning [1].

In addition, only 21% of the land is surveyed and registered in Uganda. The establishment of the Land Information System (LIS) has facilitated speedy and efficient registration of land in Uganda. However, there still exist land disputes which have led to human rights violations, conflicts and violence and disincentivised investment [4]. In addition, most of the land and land laws are either outdated or do not address the current situation and therefore require urgent reviews and revision to make them consistent with other laws and above all the 1995 Constitution [2].


Initiatives and Development Plans

Uganda aims to strengthen its land use and management system through various initiatives that include the integration of the land management information system with other systems. This is in addition to the implementation of land laws, policies regulations, standards, and guidelines. At institutional levels, key interventions are led by the country’s justice system, jointly with the Ministry of Lands [2].  Uganda aims to integrate LDN into its national selected priorities, such as sustainable development and poverty reduction. To attain LDN Uganda has presented key policy interventions including[1]:

  • Expediting formulation and implementation of a Land use plan (lack of physical and spatial planning)
  • Mainstreaming LDN in all major national planning frameworks (NDP, Sector Plans etc)
  • Strengthening environmental governance, enforcement of policies and sustainability mechanisms (incentives and penalties)
  •  Increasing or improving awareness of the existing policies and acts (especially at the grassroots);
  • Improving the Land tenure systems and
  • Revising of outdated policy and legal frameworks

A recent project, addressing land tenure systems, approved in 2021, “Scaling up Community-based Land Registration and Land Use Planning on Customary Land in Uganda”, aims to speed up the registration of land. It aims to secure land rights for at least 30,000 smallholder farmers in four regions. The project will help create a structured, scalable approach to improved tenure security and sustainable land.. The project is implemented by the Global Land Tool Network (GLTN), facilitated by UN-Habitat, in partnership with Uganda’s Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development [5].

Moreover, GIZ is currently undertaking activities in Uganda under the global project Responsible Land Policy with the main objective of guaranteeing access to land as a core condition for combating poverty and hunger in rural areas is improved for specific population groups in Central and Northern and Eastern Uganda, particularly women and socially marginalised groups [6].


Goals and Ambitions

Through its National Land Policy, Uganda wants to [2]:

  • ensure efficient, equitable and optimal utilization and management of Uganda’s land resources for poverty reduction, wealth creation and overall socio-economic development
  • re-orient the land sector in national development by articulating vis a viz other sectors in economic development
  • put emphasis on land ownership and land development
  • stipulate incentives for sustainable and productive use of land
  • develop measures to streamline the institutional framework for land administration and management to ease the delivery of efficient and cost-effective land services.

In addition, Uganda has put forward the following LDN targets [1]:

  • Land Degradation Neutral Uganda in 2030 compared to 2015 baseline
  • 21% tree or forest cover by 2030 (in line with Vision 2040 and NDC)
  • 12 % wetland cover by 2030 (in line with Vision 2040 and NDC)
  • Areas of declining or stressed land productivity reduced by 50% by 2030
  • Level of SOC at country level maintained or improved by 2030 compared to 2015 baseline


  • Guaranteeing the sustainability of Uganda’s farmlands and livestock grazing areas is an opportunity that feeds into the country’s NDPIII. A targeted strategic intervention here would be crucial to its food security, expansion of livelihood opportunities, and conservation of ecosystems. Key among the areas that could be the full-scale national roll-out of extension services on best practices of land uses that are consistent with nature protection.
  • Expediting formulation and implementation of a Land use plan
  • Mainstreaming LDN in all major national planning frameworks
  • Strengthening environmental governance, enforcement of policies and sustainability mechanisms (incentives and penalties)
  •  Increasing or improving awareness of the existing policies and acts (especially at the grassroots)