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Transitioning from years of civil war to more peaceful and hopeful times, Burundi faces many challenges regarding the management of its natural resources, which support a very densely populated country. The years of war in Burundi have led to a large number of refugees and internally displaced peoples with no clear land tenure or property rights who, as a result, are rapidly degrading the existing soil, water and forest resources while attempting to meet their basic needs for food, fuel and shelter. Additionally, weak land tenure and property rights systems as well as a lack of ownership records threaten to undermine the progression towards a long term peace and cause renewed conflict in the country as returning refugees and displaced peoples continue to return to their homes of origin.
Due in part to these land tenure issues, Burundi is facing a number of challenges to the health of the country’s environment. Widespread deforestation from exploitation for firewood, charcoal and construction materials is rapidly degrading the remaining natural forests and the biodiversity dependent upon those ecosystems, as well as diminishing water supplies for many populations. This heavy pressure on the land, including intensive small plot agriculture, is impacting soil fertility and leading to heavy erosion, while wetlands are being drained and developed for agriculture to accommodate ever increasing populations. Over 90 percent of Burundi ’s working population is directly tied to the land for their livelihoods through agriculture, yet the land is no longer able to provide an adequate yield for these families. Poor crop yields due to long years of conflict, soil depletion and land fragmentation into smaller and smaller plots have been further aggravated by several years of droughts.
Culmination of a prolonged and brutal conflict in 2005, the beginning of democratic processes and the official end of a standoff with the last armed resistance group in Burundi provides a great sense of optimism for the country's future. However, there are many factors to temper that optimism with caution as the conditions for renewed conflicts still exist, not least of which is the issue of land tenure and property rights and the impacts land use policies are having on the state of the natural resource base.
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Assessing Burundi's Natural Resource Condition and Land Use Policies
In September 2006, a US Forest Service technical assistance team traveled throughout Burundi to assist the US Embassy and USAID in assessing land tenure impacts and natural resource issues and mitigation strategies. In Burundi’s transition from years of armed conflict to more peaceful and hopeful times, the country is facing many challenges regarding the management of its natural resources, which support this second most densely populated country in Africa. The years of war in Burundi and the greater region have led to a large number of refugees and internally displaced peoples with no clear land tenure or property rights who, as a result, are rapidly degrading the existing soil, water and forest resources while attempting to meet their basic needs for food, fuel and shelter. Additionally, weak land tenure and property rights systems as well as a lack of ownership records threaten to undermine the progression towards a long term peace and cause renewed conflict in the country as returning refugees and displaced peoples continue to return to their homes of origin.
While in Burundi, the USFS focused on assessing existing natural resource management and protection activities and their impacts on Burundi ’s biodiversity, and the national level policies dealing with land use and property rights in the country. Traveling throughout the country with representatives of the Burundian government and non-governmental organizations involved in natural resource management activities, the USFS team observed ongoing resource management projects and gained an understanding of the challenges facing the country’s environment. This assessment mission provided recommendations on improving land use, tenure and property rights policies for the country, as well as new areas of potential intervention in natural resource management which will aid in securing the long term sustainability of these resources.
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Potential USFS Support to Improve Land and Natural Resource Management
In 2009, the US Forest Service will seek to establish strategic partnerships with Burundian land management and natural resources management agencie. US Forest Service technical experts could provide short term assistance in collaboration with USAID, implementing partner NGOs and GOB Ministries and Departments in order to address some of the recommendations listed above. In particular, some of the aspects USFS technical assistance could support include:
- In support of the establishment of a formal landownership record system, the USFS could provide guidance, skills and knowledge in establishing a geographic control network for individual parcel identification, and developing standards and field techniques for parcel corner location and monumentation. This approach could be tested on a small-scale basis in a setting where there’s strong local involvement and commitment.
- Assistance in the development of framework for national land management plans, management plans for the protected area network and for individual protected areas, and community land use planning.
- Assist in the development of improved watershed-level resource protection efforts including nurseries, reforestation, and erosion controls.
- Assistance in the design and implementation of wetland protection projects.
- Assessment of spring water source conditions and design of inventory and monitoring procedures to gauge water flow quality and quantity over time and make recommendations on improving water delivery systems.
- Establishing improved NRM law enforcement structures, policies and procedures.
Please see USFS trip reports on FRAME: http://www.frameweb.org/ev_en.php?ID=7709_201&ID2=DO_TOPIC
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