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The Economics of Sustainable Land Management Practices in the Ethiopian Highlands


  • Menale Kassie,

  • Precious Zikhali,

  • John Pender,

  • Gunnar Köhlin

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    • Menale Kassie is a Research Fellow, in the Department of Economics, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden. E-mail: for correspondence. Gunnar Köhlin is an Associate Professor in the Department of Economics, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden. John Pender is an Agricultural Economist with the Economic Research Service, US Department of Agriculture, and Precious Zikhali is a Researcher with the Centre for World Food Studies (SOW-VU), VU University Amsterdam. The authors acknowledge the financial support of the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which provided financial support for collection of the data used in the article; and the International Food Policy Research Institute, the International Livestock Research Institute, Mekelle University and the Amhara Regional Bureau of Agriculture and Natural Resources, which supported the implementation of the research. The authors also acknowledge two anonymous referees and the journal editor for comments and suggestions on an earlier version of this article. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Economic Research Service, the US Department of Agriculture, the University of Gothenburg, the Centre for World Food Studies or any of the organisations supporting the research. Any errors are the sole responsibility of the authors.


This article uses data from household- and plot-level surveys conducted in the highlands of the Tigray and Amhara regions of Ethiopia. We examine the contribution of sustainable land management (SLM) practices to net value of agricultural production in areas with low vs. high agricultural potential. A combination of parametric and non-parametric estimation techniques is used to check result robustness. Both techniques consistently predict that minimum tillage (MT) is superior to commercial fertilisers (CFs), as are farmers’ traditional practices (FTPs) without CFs, in enhancing crop productivity in the low agricultural potential areas. In the high agricultural potential areas, in contrast, use of CFs is superior to both MT and FTPs without CFs. The results are found to be insensitive to hidden bias. Our findings imply a need for careful agro-ecological targeting when developing, promoting and scaling up SLM practices.