Land degradation in the form of soil erosion and nutrient depletion presents a threat to food security and sustainability of agricultural production in many developing countries. Governments and development agencies have invested substantial resources to promote soil conservation practices as part of an effort to improve environmental conditions and reduce poverty.
However, there is very limited rigorous empirical work that has been done on the economics of soil conservation technology adoption. This paper investigates the impact of stone bunds on value of crop production per hectare in low and high rainfall areas of the Ethiopian highlands using cross-sectional data from more than 900 households, with multiple plots per household. We have used modified random effects models, stochastic dominance analysis (SDA) and matching methods to ensure robustness. The parametric regression and SDA estimates are based on matched observations obtained from nearest neighbor matching using propensity score estimates. This is important, because conventional regression and SDA estimates are obtained without ensuring that there actually exist comparable conserved and non-conserved plots on the distribution of covariates. We use matching methods, random effects and Mundlak’s approach to control for selection and endogeneity bias that may arise due to correlation of unobserved heterogeneity and observed explanatory variables.
We find that the three methods tell a consistent story. Plots with stone bunds are more productive than those without such technologies in semi-arid areas but not in higher rainfall areas, apparently because the moisture conserving benefits of this technology are more beneficial in drier areas. This implies that the performance of stone bunds varies by agro-ecology type, suggesting the need for designing and implementing appropriate site-specific technologies.
John Pender, Randy Bulffstone and Elias Mulugeta
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