This was created in partnership with Environment for Development .
Soil degradation is one of the most serious environmental problems in the highlands of Ethiopia. The prevalence of traditional agricultural land use and the absence of appropriate resource management often result in the degradation of natural soil fertility. This has important implications for soil productivity, household food security, and poverty. Given the extreme vulnerability of farmers in this area, we hypothesized that farmers’ risk preferences might affect the sustainability of resource use. This study presents experimental results on the willingness of farmers to take risks and relates the subjective risk preferences to actual soil conservation decisions. The study looks at a random sample of 143 households with 597 farming plots. We found that a high degree of risk aversion significantly decreases the probability of adopting soil conservation. This implies that reducing farmers’ risk exposure could promote soil conservation practices and thus more sustainable natural resource management. This might be achieved by improving tenure security, promoting access to extension services and education, and developing off-farm activities that generate income.