The Rapid Expansion of Herbicide Use in Smallholder Agriculture in Ethiopia: Patterns, Drivers, and Implications


Adoption of herbicides by Ethiopian smallholders has grown rapidly, with application on cereals doubling to more than a quarter of the area under cereals between 2004 and 2014. Relying on unique data from a large-scale survey of producers of teff, the most widely grown cereal in Ethiopia, we find considerable positive labor productivity effects of herbicide use of between 9 and 18 per cent. We show that the adoption of herbicides is strongly related to proximity to urban centers, access to all-weather roads, and levels of local rural wages. All these factors have changed substantially over the last decade in Ethiopia, explaining the rapid take-off in herbicide adoption. The sizable increase in herbicide use in Ethiopia has important implications for rural labor markets, potential environmental and health considerations, and capacity development for the design and effective implementation of regulatory policies on herbicides.

Cet article étudie l’utilisation des herbicides en Éthiopie. Il révèle une augmentation rapide des importations d’herbicides dans le secteur privé en Ethiopie (une valeur quadruplée au cours de la dernière décennie). L’adoption des herbicides par les petits exploitants a augmenté rapidement, en particulier l’application dans le domaine des céréales qui a plus que doublé au cours des dix dernières années, attenant plus d’un quart de ce secteur en 2014. Nous constatons d’importants effets positifs sur la productivité du travail pour ceux qui adoptent de 9 à 18 pourcent. Nous montrons que l’adoption des herbicides est fortement liée à la proximité d’une ville, aux salaires ruraux, et à l’accès aux marchés. Tous ces facteurs ont considérablement changés au cours de la dernière décennie en Éthiopie, ce qui semble expliquer la popularité de l’adoption des herbicides. Ce changement a des répercussions importantes sur les marchés du travail ruraux, sur les considérations potentielles en matière d’environnement et de la santé, et sur les besoins en matière de renforcement des capacités pour la conception et la mise en œuvre de politiques réglementaires.

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Figure 1

Source: Based on data from UN-Comtrade (2016).

Figure 2

Note: CI confidence interval.

Figure 3

Source: Authors’ computation using wage data (CSA, 2016a), consumer price index (CSA, 2016b), and 2-4-D prices (ERCA, 2016).

Figure 4

Note: CI confidence interval.


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We acknowledge the support for this research by the Ethiopia Strategy Support Program (ESSP). ESSP is managed by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and is financially supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department for International Development (DFID) of the government of the United Kingdom. The research presented here was conducted as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM), which is led by IFPRI. We would like to thank Todd Benson, Petra Brown, Steve Haggblade and Tom Reardon for useful discussions and suggestions during the drafting of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Bart Minten.



See Figure 5.

Figure 5

Source: Authors’ analyses.

Common support graphs based on estimated densities of herbicide adopters and non-adopters.

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Tamru, S., Minten, B., Alemu, D. et al. The Rapid Expansion of Herbicide Use in Smallholder Agriculture in Ethiopia: Patterns, Drivers, and Implications. Eur J Dev Res 29, 628–647 (2017).

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  • Herbicides
  • Ethiopia
  • agriculture
  • modern input use
  • Sub-Saharan Africa