Land is a scarce resource in Ethiopia, a country whose population relies on farming as the primary source of livelihood [1
]. As farming is an essential factor in the Ethiopian economy, land utilization and allocation is an important undertaking in the country [2
]. Agriculture is dominating the economy in Ethiopia; it accounts for 37% of the gross domestic product (GDP), which is one of the highest shares in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, landholdings are often fragmented into small parcels; the average total farm land area per smallholder household is 0.78 hectare, and it is likely to decline further. The average number of plots constituting a household farm is four [3
]. Thus, Ethiopian smallholder agriculture is characterized by extremely small farms fragmented into several plots and cultivated in a labor-intensive manner while supporting relatively large families. Many of these farms are too small to meet subsistence needs, particularly when using traditional technology and currently available resources [4
]. Fragmentation has led to farmers neglecting strips of land far from their houses, leading to reduced agricultural output. The impact of land fragmentation is that farming becomes more and more difficult, expensive, and labor intensive, especially against the background of an expected mechanization of the farming sector in Ethiopia [6
]. Adverse effects of land fragmentation have been observed in many countries where spatially separated parcels of land hinder mechanization and increase the likelihood of disputes [6
Land fragmentation is defined as a situation where farmers are cultivating two or more geographically separated plots of land by taking into account the distances between those parcels [8
]. Bentley explains land fragmentation as a type of land ownership, where a single farm consists of numerous discrete parcels [9
]. Problems often associated with land fragmentation are small sizes, irregular shapes, and dispersed parcels, resulting in higher efforts for cultivation [10
]. It can be summarized that land fragmentation is not beneficial in terms of agricultural development [12
The studies mentioned above tackle different aspects of land fragmentation. Land fragmentation can be considered from a cultivation perspective, taking into account agricultural production such as variety of crops, quality of soil, and water conditions. In this respect, land fragmentation can also be beneficial by providing a distribution of plots according to the variety of agricultural site qualities. It also can be seen from a land administration perspective considering the geometry (e.g., shape, area, slopes) as well as the land rights (e.g., land ownership, land tenure) [14
]. Another aspect would be an environmental one, where cultivation of small parcels is more likely to provide higher biodiversity. The perspective on land fragmentation is also dependent on different stakeholders. These can be farmers, planners, land administrators, environmentalists, agro-economists, etc. Furthermore, perceptions of land fragmentation vary between countries.
In this study, the investigations were focused on Ethiopia and on the viewpoints of farmers. Thus, cultivation and land administration perspectives on land fragmentation were in the foreground.
Land fragmentation is both an indicator and the result of a (frequently problematic) land tenure structure. In some regions, land fragmentation becomes a major problem because it restricts agricultural development and reduces the opportunities for sustainable rural development. Policies to counter land fragmentation are needed for social, economic, and environmental reasons [11
] (see also Table 1
Even if farmland fragmentation is widespread and may affect farmers’ decisions, it can influence farm performance either negatively or positively. Usually, the term land fragmentation is associated with small parcel sizes, improper shapes of individual parcels, long distances of parcels from homestead, and long distances between parcels [15
]. Experiences with quantifying the impact of land fragmentation on agricultural production efficiency reveals the negative association. Studies done in Nigeria show that farmers’ landholdings are fragmented, small in size, non-contiguous, and interspersed. Fragmentation of holdings had negative implications for agricultural development [16
]. Also, studies in South-East China reveal that land fragmentation can be an important determinant of technical efficiency in rice production. An increase in average plot size increases rice farmers’ cultivation efficiency and vice versa [17
]. Another study in Nigeria reveals that land fragmentation affects production efficiency by the finding that there is a negative correlation between amount of fragmented land and yield [18
Even though policy makers often point out the draw backs of land fragmentation, there is no consensus that fragmentation is strictly a negative phenomenon. Bentley argues that the negatives caused by fragmented land holdings are overrated and that the farmers’ own views often are neglected by policy makers [9
]. Bentley also documents positive aspects of land fragmentation, such as variety of soil and growing conditions reducing the risk of total crop failure. Plots spread over an area sometimes implies micro-climatic variations and multiple ecological zones. Fragmentation also facilitates crop rotation [9
]. Additionally, farmers can take advantage of minor differences in local agroecology [19
], as they can hedge risk through spatial dispersion [20
] and improve agricultural biodiversity [9
]. In Africa, specifically in Ghana and Rwanda, Blarel et al. found that fragmentation facilitates crop diversification [20
]. Studies in Turkey show more fragmentation is positively correlated with increased yields [21
In land fragmentation research, land consolidation is regarded as a proper measure to facilitate agricultural cultivation, rural development, and land administration [14
]. Land consolidation is also seen as an important tool for improving environmental management [22
]. Land consolidation can be defined as a land use policy tool designed to overcome the difficulties of land fragmentation [24
]. Land consolidation means a planned rearrangement of land parcels. If done properly, land consolidation supports farmers to amalgamate their fragmented parcels. It facilitates the creation of competitive agricultural production arrangements by enabling farmers to have farms with fewer parcels that are larger and better shaped. In addition, new infrastructure can be established in the consolidated area, for example, to improve accessibility and water management. In turn, this allows farmers to introduce better farming techniques [14
]. Making farming more efficient and ultimately more economically viable creates incentives to attract young people into farming and agribusiness. Land consolidation is therefore considered a worthwhile complementary investment, as it improves the efficiency of rural land use and helps to address the challenges of sustainable rural development [27
]. In Eastern, Western, and Central European countries, high amounts of farmland have been consolidated over the past decades within different governmental frameworks of land consolidation projects. As a result, farmland fragmentation was solved to a high extent [29
According to a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, a land consolidation program has to accommodate national and sub-national priorities as well as local ones. A land consolidation strategy should address issues such as [14
Institutional issues: what tasks should be done at what level by which institution, and how participatory “bottom-up” involvement should be implemented;
Financial issues: how money to support land consolidation will be sourced, and how the process can be made cost-effective;
Legal issues: what the legal basis for implementing land consolidation will be, and how to ensure that the results are not jeopardized (e.g., by heritage);
Capacity building: how participants can, at all levels and in all sectors, acquire knowledge and skills they need to carry out their responsibilities;
International cooperation: how countries can gain access to the technical and the financial resources of donors.
Many studies prove the positive association between land consolidation and agricultural productivity. For instance, Asia’s Green Revolution is evidence that investments to improve agricultural productivity by land consolidation and by crop intensification have been important for rural poverty reduction [33
]. Various studies from Asia, South America, and Western, Central, and Eastern European countries [22
] document that land consolidation policies have contributed to increased agricultural productivity. However, this applies to favorable farming conditions and a certain degree of mechanization. Using household-level data, Nilsson’s study found that there is a positive association between land consolidation and crop yields in Rwanda, but only among farm households with land holdings greater than one hectare, which is well above the average farm size in Ethiopia [36
To improve the Ethiopian agricultural sector, Beyene [2
] proposes land reforms in the form of land consolidation as effective and efficient mechanisms to allow the population to invest in farmland. The reforms come in the form of government directing policies that should enable the consolidation of previously fragmented parcels of land [2
]. In general, there are four types of land consolidation approaches [14
]. These are comprehensive, simplified, voluntary, and individual land consolidation. This article focuses on the third type, as the Ethiopian federal government encourages voluntary land consolidation, and the law states that, “In order to make small farm plots convenient for development, farmers are encouraged to voluntary exchange farmlands” [37
]. In line with this law, the land regulation law in the Amhara National Regional State encourages voluntary land consolidation by exchange of land between landholder farmers [38
]. To encourage voluntary land consolidation, the regulation, enacted in 2006, further states that the government must provide technical services and has to renew landholding certificates free of charge to land holder farmers who exchange plots [39
]. However, in practice, the above-mentioned technical support is largely restricted to legal support. The Ethiopian Rural Land Administration and Use determination proclamation and regulations covering land fragmentation and voluntary land consolidation currently lack well defined and detailed procedures, e.g., how to launch and implement voluntary land consolidation schemes, controlling principles to be applied during implementation, inheritance regulations for voluntary land consolidation, and legal measures to avoid future fragmentation.
Even with the already identified positive effects, land consolidation has historically faced challenges. In Central and Eastern Europe, because of post-socialist transformation, cooperative farms now consist of numerous, small, and economically barely viable private plots with a multitude of landowners. To implement land consolidation was difficult because of land ownership and, in particular, values, legitimacy, personal identity, and emotional bonds [40
]. In Taiwan, farmers objected land consolidation even when they fully recognized their benefits. Corruption and maladministration of government officials, timing of operation, cost of consolidation, and the fear of receiving low quality land in the exchange process were quoted as reasons against land consolidation [41
Ethiopia has seen extensive land grabs sponsored by the government as part of its agricultural transformation strategy. The land grabs, involving land consolidation, have been supported by recent Ethiopian policies such as the Growth and Transformation Plan I and II, where the government aimed to transfer a total of 2.3 million hectares to large-scale commercial farming [42
]. In many countries, land consolidation did not consider ecological aspects for a long time. Thus, land consolidation processes decreased biodiversity in rural areas and diminished long established habitats of animals around the villages [21
]. Not surprisingly, in Ethiopia, the above-mentioned failures in land consolidation processes affected the willingness of farmers to participate in such procedures.
Nevertheless, Ethiopia has attempted to improve the economic and the social outcomes of farming in the country. The government, following a recognition that small-scale farmers are perennially underperforming in regard to farm output, invested in land consolidation as a mechanism to improve the fate of the country’s agricultural sector. One of the challenges related to agricultural output is fragmentation of land. Thus, these challenges have promoted the willingness of the population to support voluntary land consolidation. Therefore, this study aimed to estimate the willingness of farmers for land consolidation in general and, in particular, to address the factors influencing the willingness of landholder farmers to participate in voluntary land consolidation processes. The investigations were based on interviews with a total of 343 landholder farmers in the Gozamin District, Amhara National Regional State, Ethiopia. In addition, information was gathered in focus group discussion and community consultations.
Results show that the landholder farmers who were keen to exchange parcels with neighbors had a high degree of willingness to accept voluntary land consolidation. The possible explanation is that landholder farmers exchanged their parcel to cluster the land in one place and to avoid fragmentation. This result is supported by studies in the Ukraine by Malashevskyi et al., which studied parcel exchange aimed at regrouping a significant amount of land use in order to optimize their structure and to consolidate land [53
]. This hypothesis also was confirmed in the focus group discussions. Participants said that, in the study area, land exchange has long been tradition, and landholder farmers are motivated to swap the parcel with neighbors by the prospect of better access to irrigable land, facilitation of farm operations, and shorter distance to homestead. Having closer distances to main roads and town infrastructure as well as to plots of a family member in addition to having parcels with higher fertility were further reasons. Currently, the government is giving legal support to secure land use rights for those who swap parcels. During community consultations, a few landholder farmers raised issues and concerns about the risks associated with concentration of farm land in one place, such as infestation by army worm, destruction by floods, and soil fertility differences of parcels. As reasons for parcel exchange, during the expert panel, the experts noted facilitation of agricultural mechanization, better access to irrigable land, and a facilitation of cultivation on consolidated land.
Similarly, the preference to cluster parcels was strongly correlated with landholder farmers’ willingness to accept voluntary land consolidation. This result also was confirmed by the discussion with selected farmers. Concentration of farmland in one place facilitates easier and more regular monitoring of the agricultural land. Aggregated plots simplify fertilization and composting. In addition, accumulated land enables the planting of permanent crops in combination with livestock fattening and easy input for transport, saves labor, improves yield due to timely operation of parcels, and facilitates agricultural mechanization. Farmers also expected that aggregated parcels would enable them to put more land under irrigation (including opportunities to intensify use of underground water for supplementary irrigation).
Plot nearness to home had a positive effect on the willingness of landholder farmers to accept land consolidation. This was considered as time taken to move from homestead to parcels as well as from parcel to parcel. This result of the current study is supported by findings by Zeng et al. in Jiangsu province, China, which indicate that, after land consolidation, the average distance from dwellings to the plots decreases, which is also caused by an improvement of the road network [54
]. Other studies worked on in Ethiopia by Paul et al. and Teshome et al. indirectly support the plot nearness to home as a positive effect with the finding that fragmentation usually increases distances from the parcel to the homestead [1
]. In focus group discussions carried out in the current study, the landholder farmers stated their preference for parcels to be located close to their house, as transportation activities and labor forces would be reduced. The farmers also confirmed that they are able to protect and monitor parcels near the house more easily. This aims to produce higher productivity and better output.
The perception that land fragmentation can reduce productivity affected the willingness of voluntary land consolidation positively and significantly. This finding is consistent with other studies done by Nilsson et al. and Alemu et al. in Rwanda and Northern Ethiopia, respectively, which document the correlation between land fragmentation and yield reduction [36
]. Similarly, a study done in Rwanda shows that the increase in land fragmentation is associated with a negative effect on yields [55
]. Studies conducted in Rwanda by Bizoza et al. and Cioffo et al. also assure the association of positive productivity effects with land consolidation [56
]. A Chinese study confirms that land consolidation processes (opposed to land fragmentation) enable changes of land use types with significant effects on increasing agricultural production [58
]. Zeng et al. [54
] confirm that land consolidation enhances grain yield capability. Qualitatively, this result was supported in the discussion with the community members. Most of the participants agreed that land fragmentation is a source for low yields, because farmers who cultivate scattered plots run a higher risk of losing their harvest to wild animals, as their plots are too far away for them to regularly monitor. They also mentioned the burden on children who carry food to family members working on distant parcels during harvesting seasons. Also, the participants emphasized the difficulty of using even small agricultural machines, such as three-wheeled multi-purpose tractors, on discontinuous plots as obstacles for agricultural mechanization. Some community members did not directly identify a negative effect of fragmentation on productivity, however, they mentioned that the additional time and effort required to manage distant parcels negatively affects productivity. A few of them considered land fragmentation as a risk spreading strategy, minimizing the risk of harvest loss by planting crops in different locations.
As expected, the determinant “perception of conflict reduction” positively and significantly influenced the willingness of landholder farmers to accept voluntary land consolidation. This finding is approved by former studies done in Turkey by Akkaya et al., which states land consolidation as an effective solution against conflicts raised by land fragmentation [59
]. This also was confirmed in the focus group discussion. During community panel, landholder farmers gave evidence that, on the one hand, land fragmentation increases conflicts related to land use and, on the other hand, land consolidation minimizes land use related conflicts. On these issues, experts also confirmed that parcels concentrated in one area have reduced land related conflicts compared to parcels found in a scattered place.
The model results confirm that knowledge of landholder farmers about land consolidation had a positive and significant effect on the dependent variable. This result is confirmed by previous studies conducted by Terano et al. and Gessesse et al. in Iran and China, respectively, indicating that when farmers are aware of land consolidation, their adaptation improves significantly [60
]. The result was supported by information gained in focus group discussion with landholder farmers. Most of them agreed that knowledge is a key element to adopting a new practice—in this case, land consolidation. In addition, participants emphasized the need for repeated events to raise awareness and clarify issues through combined use of local and scientific knowledge.
The determinant “trust of neighboring landholder farmers” was also positively and significantly related to willingness to accept land consolidation voluntarily. It is conducive to collective action such as voluntary land consolidation. This finding is in line with previous studies done by Bizoza et al., Bouma et al., and Nyangena in Rwanda and rural Kenya, respectively, which indicate that trust constitutes an important feature of social capital assets and is a key element for successfully implementing land consolidation procedures [56
]. Furthermore, capacity strengthening of local leaders, especially at village level, is required so that they are able to sensitize farmers on all aspects regarding land use and management reforms. This is likely to allow farmers to be confident in the process of voluntary land consolidation.
Tenure security of landholder farmers was positively and significantly related to the willingness to accept land consolidation voluntarily. This finding of the current study is supported by investigations done by Demetriou et al. showing that land consolidation is suitable to support land tenure security [11
]. Similarly, another study by Zeng et al. in China reports that land consolidation facilitates land tenure transfer and security [54
]. The focus group discussion confirmed that a concentration of parcels and consolidated plots increase the land holding capability and the security of land use rights.
The above outlined explanatory variables do not equally affect the landholder farmers’ willingness to accept voluntary land consolidation. To rank these variables, a “distinctive landholder farmer” can be defined using the most frequent values of the dummy variables. Accordingly, a distinctive landholder farmer:
Has participated in an extension program (73.2%);
Needs to exchange parcels with neighbors (65.9%);
Has one of the parcels nearest to home (60.6%);
Perceives that land fragmentation reduces productivity (60.1%);
Has a positive attitude to land consolidation (57.7%);
Perceives land consolidation as a way to secure land use rights (55.7%);
Has awareness that land consolidation reduces boundary conflicts (53.6%);
Trusts neighbors to exchange land (53.4%).
The probability that the distinctive landholder farmer would show interest in willingness to accept voluntary land consolidation was computed to be 0.59. However, the probability declined by 4.1% for those landholder farmers who were distinctive in all respects except that they did not have parcels near home. Similarly, the probability declined by 5.9% for those landholder farmers who were distinctive in all respects except that they did not have need to exchange parcels. Moreover, the probability of willingness to accept land consolidation decreased by 3.8% for those landholder farmers who were distinctive in all respects except that they did not perceive that land fragmentation reduces productivity. The effects of two other significant dummy variables are documented in Table 6
A fundamental part of any strategy towards more productive and sustainable agriculture as well as towards rural development enables farmers and food producers to utilize new methods of agricultural cultivation with higher efficiency, transparency, and competitiveness. In Ethiopia, agriculture is the foundation of the country’s economy, accounting for 37% of their gross domestic product; however, it is overwhelmingly of a subsistence nature. Farmers lack the means to improve production due to the fragmentation of landholdings, the insecurity of tenure, the absence of modern agricultural technologies, and the lack of proper land management. The government’s policy is to promote agriculture. One of the governmental land policies is encouraging voluntary land consolidation as a strategy tool to address the challenges of traditional agricultural practice. The current study gives evidence of a high degree of willingness by landholder farmers to accept voluntary land consolidation. Land consolidation is seen as a proper instrument to increase agricultural productivity and to improve the management of natural resources. Land consolidation is a driver for rural development and contributes essentially to the improvement of land administration systems. Land consolidation reduces land fragmentation and enables an economic cultivation of agricultural land. Finally, land consolidation is an excellent tool to improve road infrastructure and erosion management in rural areas.
In this study, a total of 13 factors hypothesized to influence the willingness of landholder farmers in regard to voluntary land consolidation were evaluated by using a logistic regression model. Findings were presented.
In focus group discussion, landholder farmers identified the following risks of voluntary land consolidation. They fear decreased cropping diversity with increased vulnerability to vermin epidemics as well as an increased risk of crop failures due to local natural disasters such as heavy rain, hail, and floods. Likewise, farmers also mentioned different soil quality, different fertility levels, and different slopes of parcels as obstacles for land consolidation. In addition to these, land scarcity, infrastructure problems, heritage law, accessibility to water resources for irrigation, and financial issues were seen as challenges that cannot be met by land consolidation procedures.
Currently, at the governmental level, there is no authority for supporting the implementation and the monitoring of land consolidation. This shows that the government does not give much attention to land consolidation. There is a lack of technical knowledge and facilities for land consolidation as well as a lack of transparent and clear regulations for voluntary land consolidation.
Despite the problems identified in the study area, many landholder farmers are willing to accept voluntary land consolidation. The conducive local environment is able to push voluntary land consolidation in a systematic manner. There are opportunities to create land consolidation projects in the study area.
Based on the investigations carried out in the study, the authors recommend the following activities for pushing land consolidation processes:
Land exchange is a key element of land consolidation. The willingness of farmers in regard to voluntary land consolidation became evident by the quantitative and the qualitative surveys outlined in this study. It is the task of the government to facilitate legal land exchange;
Landholder farmers are interested in aggregated and clustered parcels. Governmental authorities should provide the legal framework to enable consolidated agricultural land fragmentation while preserving environmentally important landscape structures;
Findings of the study give evidence that landholder farmers prefer to have their parcels situated near the homestead and to have good access to their parcels. The government should enhance accessibility to farms by facilitating road networks;
Voluntary land consolidation reduces parcel boundary disputes or conflicts. This was proven by the farmers in the survey and in the focus group discussions. Therefore, land administration offices should promote and support voluntary land consolidation to decrease conflicts arising from boundaries;
Voluntary land consolidation improves the security of land use rights. Access to land and security of land tenure are effective ways to reduce a farmer’s vulnerability, to guarantee long-term investments on land, and to conserve natural resources. The government should facilitate components of land registry and surveying of land parcels (cadaster) within land consolidation procedures.
In addition, the authors formulated some recommendations that could not be directly derived from the quantitative analysis of the study but which became obvious during the discussions with respondents:
Land fragmentation reduces yield. Only land consolidation processes can solve land fragmentation and, as a consequence, enable improved yields. The government has to encourage landholder farmers to participate in voluntary land consolidation. This creates a favorable environment for commercializing mechanized farming and supports agriculture towards higher proficiency and more stable yields;
In addition, the government should provide loans to landholder farmers to purchase modern technologies to improve the agricultural productivity and to make the work easier for farmers. Loans can be secured by index insurance mechanisms;
Farmers are not always aware of the benefits of land consolidation. Therefore, land administration offices should continuously inform the rural population about the aims, the benefits, the legal framework, and the implementation of land consolidation procedures.
Land consolidation is a cornerstone for sustainable development, for the alleviation of poverty, for the improvement of rural infrastructure, for mitigated flood and erosion risks, and for an increase of agricultural productivity. Therefore, the Ethiopian government draws attention to voluntary land consolidation in practice. For this, the government has to define policies and regulations taking into consideration the different perspectives of the stakeholders, such as the Ministry of Agriculture, international development partners, policy makers, and especially landholder farmers.
The current study was among the first studies in Ethiopia to investigate the willingness of voluntary land consolidation. However, more research activities and governmental support at local, regional, and national levels are necessary to convince farmers of the benefits of land consolidation processes and to create a higher number of voluntary land consolidation projects in the study area, in the Amhara region, and in all other parts of Ethiopia. A pilot study would be a good way to demonstrate the many potential benefits of land consolidation.