Land-use changes associated with large-scale land transactions in Ethiopia

Tim G. Williams, Sadie A. Trush, Jonathan A. Sullivan, Chuan Liao, Nathan Chesterman, Arun Agrawal, Seth D. Guikema, Daniel G. Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Large-scale land transactions (LSLTs) can precipitate dramatic changes in land systems. Ethiopia has experienced one of the largest amounts of LSLTs in Africa, yet their effects on local land systems are poorly understood. In this study, we quantify the direct and indirect land use and land cover (LULC) changes associated with LSLTs at eight socio-environmentally diverse sites in central and western Ethiopia. To estimate these effects, we employ a novel, two-stage counterfactual analysis. We first use a region-growing procedure to identify a “control” site with comparable landscape-level characteristics to each LSLT. Then, we sample and reweight points within each control site to further improve covariate balance. This two-stage approach both controls for potential confounding factors at multiple spatial levels and reduces the costs of extensive LULC data classification. Our results show that the majority of the reported transacted area (62%) remained unconverted to large-scale agriculture. Most of the land that was developed into large-scale agriculture displaced smallholder agriculture (53%), followed by conversion of woodland/shrubland (35%) and forest (9%). Beyond their boundaries, LSLTs indirectly influenced rates of smallholder agricultural expansion and abandonment, pointing to site dependence in how LSLTs affect adjacent land systems. In particular, the low prevalence of forest within and around these LSLTs underscores a need to move beyond measures of deforestation as proxies for LSLT effects on land systems. Our two-stage approach shows promise as an efficient method for generating robust counterfactuals and thereby LULC change estimates in systems lacking wall-to-wall LULC data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number34
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2021


  • Ethiopia
  • Land use/land cover change
  • Large-scale land transactions
  • Smallholder agriculture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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