It is the decade of ecosystem restoration. The Land Economics Group studies which policies, institutional changes, and technological innovations most effectively improve agricultural sustainability and societal welfare. For this,  we rely on modern causal inference, machine learning, and especially geo-spatial data, and we work closely together with policy organizations.

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Prof. Dr. David Wüpper

Head of Group Land Economics


Hannah Ritchie: All countries now have policies, but not all work as intended. Some drive trade-offs or lead to spillover impacts elsewhere, but there are many examples of successful stories.


This webinar provides an opportunity to revisit the research on Economics of Land Degradation, which has garnered significant international interest since its open access publication in 2016, evidenced by being accessed over 1 million times by the global community. First and foremost, however, this event will serve as a platform for scholarly exchange on the current state and exciting future research directions in this highly policy relevant field. The program features two main panel discussions: the first, focusing on recent research and policy developments on the topic; the second, exploring new frontiers in the economics of ecosystems restoration.

Register in advance for this webinar:

Every three years the EAAE organizes a congress with a general theme in the broad field of agricultural economics. The congress brings together between 700 to 1000 academics, scholars, practitioners, stakeholders and policy makers from all over the world to discuss the latest and most pressing issues in the agri and food domain. The next EAAE congress will be held in Bonn in 2025. Information will follow as soon as possible.

New Delhi, India from August 3-7, 2024 (Abstract will follow) Link:

Keynote David Wuepper: Progress and Challenges in Land Economics: Land economics brings together land science and economics. The field has gained a lot of attention in recent years, especially from the discourse around nature based climate solutions, how to halt the loss of biodiversity, and increasing worries about soil degradation. There have been important methodological advances – particularly in the realm of measurement and causal identification. Conceptually, researchers have gotten more and more interested in heterogeneous treatment effects, conditioning factors, and non-linearities. Behavioral economics continues to make important contributions, adding realism to common assumptions about human behavior. The identification of the effect of slow-changing, long-term trends (such as soil degradation processes) still remains a challenge. Another challenge pertains to accessibility, technical capabilities, and selection biases. There is also still too often a disconnect between academic research and policy making. Overall, however, things are moving in the right direction.


Currently there are no open Postdoc Vacancies in the Land Economics Group. Please check again later.

Currently there are no open PhD Vacancies in the Land Economics Group. Please check again later.

Current vacancy: Student Assistant (f/m/d), open until June 3

We have multiple and diverse open student assistant positions. We are especially always looking for students with geospatial data skills, e.g. processing remote sensing data in Google Earth Engine and similar. Please Contact us directly for more information!

Open Master and Bachelor Thesis Topics

1.       Understanding Trends in Agri-Environmental Policies (D)

2.       Monetary Valuation of Agri-Environmental Policies (L + D)

3.       Soil and Water Conservation Practices in Developing Countries (L + D)

4.       The Environmental Impact of International Land Acquisitions (L)

5.       The Portfolio of Economic Policies Needed to Mitigate Agriculture’s Biodiversity Impact (L)

L = Literature

D = Data






PhenoRob (Funded by DFG)

Aims to transform crop production through developing and deploying new technologies. We are especially interested in the costs and benefits of new agricultural technologies, separately for farmers and for society at large.

Land Improvement Impact Evaluation Ethiopia (Funded by GIZ)

This impact assessment is conducted together with GIZ in Ethiopia's lowlands. It combines a survey and focus group discussions, satellite remote sensing, and econometric analysis. The final part is a cost benefit analysis.


Aims to inform public policies to conserve / restore the resource land. Under which conditions are public policies most effectively improving land conditions? What are the cost-benefit ratios of different policies?


© Land Economics Group
Prof. Dr. David Wuepper

Group Head

Prior: ETH Zurich

Interests: Policy Evaluation, Innovation, Sustainability

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Ms. Solene Clemence

PhD Student

Prior: ETH Zurich

Interests: Restoration, Policy Evaluation

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Mr. Guyo Dureti

PhD Student

Prior: University of Bonn

Interests: Cropland Degradation, Extension Services,  Policy Evaluation

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Ms. Zahra Didarali

PhD Student

Prior: Oxford University

Interests: Policy Adoption, Policy Implementation, Livestock

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Mr. Sharear Roman

PhD Student

Prior: ZEF

Interests: Agricultural Innovations and Technology, Machine Learning

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Mr. Alessandro Schioppa

PhD Student

Prior: Wageningen University and Research

Interests: Land Tenure, Policy Evaluation

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Ms. Kirara Homma

PhD Student

Prior: Kyoto University

Interests: Grassland Degradation, Policy Evaluation

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Mr. Trevor Tisler

PhD Student

Prior: ZEF

Interests: Social and Environmental Modelling, Carbon Accounting, Traditional Livelihoods

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Dr. Hadi


Prior: IIASA

Interests: Geospatial Data, Machine Learning, Land Cover Mapping, Impacts of Land Degradation

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Dr. Wyclife Agumba Oluoch


Prior: ZEF

Interests: Machine Learning, Remote Sensing, Mapping, Deep Learning

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Ms. Ellora Shala


Office Hours:

Wednesday: 9 - 1 PM

Friday: 9 - 1 PM

Working & Discussion Papers & Datasets

Zenodo: A new database of 6124 policies at the intersection of agriculture and the environment. Implemented between 1960 and 2022 in over 200 countries. Comprises a wide range of types of policies (e.g., ranging from legislative changes to payments for ecosystem services), as well as a wide range of goals (e.g., from pesticide regulations to forest conservation). It allows to e.g. count such policies per country, filter to select specific policies, and to create policy indices, e.g. weighting countries' policies with contextual factors that enhance to hinder policy performance (e.g. policy budgets, enforcement, stringency, corruption). Published Article: Nature Food

G20 Global Land Initiative: Land restoration is an intentional activity that initiates or accelerates the recovery of an ecosystem with
respect to its health, integrity, and sustainability . There are numerous studies documenting substantial economic, social, and environmental benefits from land restoration . However, despite this, the rate of land degradation remains significantly higher than the rate of land restoration globally. Some of the reasons behind this continued land degradation are well known, such as social and longer-term nature of most land restoration benefits, numerous economic and institutional barriers for land restoration, such as land tenure insecurity, lack of access to funding, lack of extension and rural advisory services, and others. However, there are also numerous examples of communities and countries which achieved significant land restoration successes. This conference provided a valuable opportunity to discuss and exchange about successes and failures of land restoration focusing on the social context, and highlighted solutions and opportunities for successful land restoration.

NBER: We estimate annual discontinuities in remotely-sensed crop yields at all international land borders and link them to changes in the economic freedom index by the Fraser Institute, a country-level measure of institutional quality. Each point of the ten-point index increases the discontinuity by 2.2% over the next five years, highlighting that institutional reforms have the potential to close some of the observed crop yield gap. Three subcategories are consistently significant: credit market regulation, inflation, and the top marginal tax rate. We present suggestive evidence that higher average yields are achieved through increased use of irrigation and mechanization. Yield variability remains unchanged, and reforms lead to cropland expansion through deforestation.


Plos One: As one of the agglomeration models targeting cluster-based rural development, cluster farming has been promoted in Ethiopia and it is already reported to have significant welfare implications, but participation rates are not as high as expected. This study examines the role of land as a constraint to the development of cluster-based development in Ethiopia both using extensive and intensive measures of cluster farming. The study further disaggregates farm households based on their farm size to better understand potential heterogeneities in the relationship between farm size and cluster farming. The paper also documents other household socio-economic and network characteristics that may matter in cluster farming.

Nature Food: For both research and practice, it is paramount to understand what, where and when agri-environmental policies have been put in place. Here we present a database of 6,124 agri-environmental policies implemented between 1960 and 2022 in about 200 countries. The database comprises a wide range of policy types (including regulations and payment schemes) and goals (such as biodiversity conservation, safer pesticide use and reducing nutrient pollution). We illustrate the application of the database by exploring the association between economic development and agri-environmental policies and between the soil-related, agri-environmental policies of countries and their border discontinuities in cropland erosion. A strong, positive link between economic development and implemented agri-environmental policies is revealed, and it is found that 43% of all global border discontinuities in soil erosion between countries can be explained by differences in their policies.

Global Environmental Change: Protecting the world’s remaining forests is a global policy priority. Even though the value of the world’s remaining forests is global in nature, much of the protection has to come from national policies. Here, we combine global, high resolution remote sensing data on forest outcomes (tree-cover loss, forest degradation, net primary production) and two complementary econometric research designs for causal inference to first quantify how much it matters in which country a forest is located, secondly, the role of public policies, and third, under which conditions such pubic policies tend to be most successful. We find considerable border discontinuities in remotely sensed forest outcomes around the world (in a regression discontinuity design) and these are largely explained by countries’ policies (using a differences-in-discontinuities design). We estimate that public policies reduce the risk of tree cover loss by almost 4 percentage points globally, but there is large variation around this. The best explanations we find for these heterogenous treatment effects are a country’s policy enforcement, its policy stringency, its property rights, and its rule of law (in that order). Our results motivate international cooperation to finance and improve (a) countries’ public policies for forest protection and (b) countries’ capacity to implement and enforce them well.

Journal of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association: We present the first systematic review of the literature on farmer time preference measurements across Europe and North America. We synthesize methodological developments, summarize the empirical findings, and discuss challenges and potential areas for further research. The average reported discount rate of the farmers in Europe and North America is 23% per annum. Farmer time preferences are, however, highly heterogeneous within and across studies. Moreover, we identify methodological challenges and knowledge gaps to be addressed in future research. We draw conclusions for policy makers and researchers. 

Communications Earth and Environment: Sustainable intensification, defined as increasing production per unit without harming the environment, has potential to transform agricultural systems. While questions persist about which practices and conditions lead to sustainable intensification, diversification has gained prominence as a proposed solution. Here we apply niche modelling using maximum entropy modelling approach to predict the global spatial distribution of profitable diversified farming systems under different socio-economic conditions. We found about 47% of the world is suitable for profitable diversified systems with a larger area in the global North. When we combined our findings with knowledge about biophysical potential for cropland expansion and intensification, we found that different areas could benefit from diversification to achieve sustainable intensification through cropland expansion (e.g., Europe), intensification (e.g., sub-tropics and tropics), or both (e.g., West Africa). With these results, we provide insights in which way diversification can support sustainable intensification and contribute to the debate on land sharing vs sparing.

Agricultural Economics: Cluster farming is increasingly recognized as a viable means of improving smallholder economic integration and commercialization in many developing countries. However, little is known about its impact on smallholder welfare and livelihoods. We examine the relationship between cluster farming and smallholder commercialization using a large-scale survey of 3969 farm households in Ethiopia cultivating high-acreage crops such as teff, wheat, maize, barley, and sesame. Using switching regressions and instrumental variable estimators, we show that cluster farming is associated with commercialization measured as commercialization index, market surplus value, and market price. To further deal with endogeneity concerns, we also employ some pseudo-panel models where we observe similar insights. Beyond this, we account for heterogeneities by disaggregating households based on farm scales and crops cultivated. Our findings show that cluster farming is positively associated with commercialization for all farms and crop types despite this disaggregation. However, the related gains are higher among medium and large farms and vary per crop type. These findings imply that cluster farming is crucial in improving smallholder commercialization and may be a critical entry and leveraging point for policy. We thus lend support to initiatives and plans that seek to upscale cluster farming as they can potentially improve smallholder commercialization with ensuing impacts on rural livelihoods and welfare.

Food Policy: Farmers’ behavior towards sustainable agricultural production is key to reducing the environmental footprint of agriculture and conserving biodiversity. We investigate the causal effect of culture on pro-environmental behaviors of farmers, and how policy instruments interact with culture to influence behavior. We exploit a unique natural experiment in Switzerland, which consists of two parts. First, there is an inner-Swiss cultural border between German- and French-speaking farmers who share the same natural environment, economy, and institutions, but differ culturally in their norms and values. Second, we exploit the effects of an agri-environmental policy reform that increased the monetary incentives to enroll land into biodiversity conservation. Using a spatial difference-in-discontinuities design and panel census data of all Swiss farms between 2010 and 2017, we show the following findings: Before the reform, farmers on the French-speaking side of the cultural border systematically enrolled less land into biodiversity conservation, compared to the German-speaking side. With increased monetary incentives following the policy reform in 2014, the French-speaking farmers enrolled relatively more additional land than the German-speaking farmers, shrinking the discontinuity. These findings indicate that while there exist cultural differences in pro-environmental behaviors, increased monetary incentives can reduce the importance of cultural differences. We discuss the implications for policy.

Annual Review of Resource Economics: Restoration of degraded ecosystems is essential for having a stable climate, reducing weather extremes and disease burden, producing enough food to feed growing populations, and generally keeping the world livable. However, we are currently rapidly degrading ecosystems worldwide, thus destroying the very basis of life. There is a major gap between what investments are needed to restore degraded ecosystems and prevent further degradation and what is actually being invested. In addition, most governments are still learning how to design and implement ecosystem restoration policies that are effective and efficient. Ecosystem restoration should be among our main scientific endeavors. This review fills a critical gap in the existing literature by providing a theory-informed understanding of the findings emerging from this highly policy-relevant strand of resource economics. The article also suggests key areas for future research.

Ecological Economics: Countries' agricultural systems have an important impact on biodiversity, for example bird populations. Here, we estimate such impacts by exploiting a natural experiment in the middle of Europe, where there is a naturally homogenous area that is divided into three countries: Switzerland, Germany, and France. These countries have markedly different agricultural systems and policies. Using a methodologically unified and unusually rich bird dataset available across these borders, both for the 2010s and 1990s, we analyze (a) whether there is a clear pattern that bird diversity systematically changes when crossing these borders and (b) whether this has changed over time. To assess bird populations, we focus on Shannon diversity, species richness and number of territories, as well as the individual effect on 29 common bird species. We find that Switzerland has systematically smaller and less diverse bird populations compared to Germany and France, driven entirely by agricultural differences. At the same time, we find that the difference between the countries was considerably more pronounced in the 1990s than in the 2010s. Yet, to reach the bird friendliness of Switzerland's neighboring countries, additional policy effort seems required, for example in the form of targeted agri-environmental payments.

Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy: Agricultural and other fields of economics have always co-evolved and benefitted from each other's insights. Over time, a general convergence of all social sciences began, and various fields of psychology, sociology, anthropology, and political science started to overlap with general and agricultural economics. Within economics, it was especially the rise of behavioral economics, that has steered the field toward the other social sciences. It departs from the assumption of perfectly rational expected utility maximizers and allows for greater diversity in decision-makers' objectives and constraints. Agricultural economics has been early to recognize the need to make economic choice models more realistic. This can be explained by the particularities of agricultural economics and agriculture. Agricultural economists are tasked with solving specific, practical problems, and thus behavioral deviations from model predictions have always been salient and relevant to policy recommendations. Then, farmers—and to some extent also consumers—make choices in particularly complex and uncertain environments and must use all strategic tools at their disposal to deal with their “bounded rationality”. These include the reliance on culture and other heuristics. Agricultural economics continues to synergize economic theory and practice with insights from other disciplines and real-world experiences and is an important driver towards further unification of all social sciences.

European Review of Agricultural Economics: Regression discontinuity designs (RDD) are increasingly being employed in agricultural and environmental economics to identify causal effects. Here, we showcase recent applications, identify best practices, discuss commonly invoked identifying assumptions and show how these can be tested. We discuss basic empirical issues and more advanced topics, including how to exploit the availability of panel data, models to explain heterogeneous treatment effects and extrapolation of local estimates. Moreover, we show how agricultural economists can leverage RDD in combination with remote sensing and environmental modelling. Finally, we highlight three areas of emerging opportunities and draw conclusions for research and policy.

Global Environmental Change: There is an urgent need to reduce the environmental risk of pesticide pollution worldwide. We here explore national leverage points, using a novel dataset of 21.4 million georeferenced grid cells and a spatial regression discontinuity design. Our analysis lets us separate how much cross-country differences in the risk of pesticide pollution are caused by differences in countries’ agricultural systems and policies and how much is explained by other factors, such as environmental differences between the countries for example (e.g. pest pressures). We estimate that a third of the global cross-country differences in the pesticide pollution risk are caused by differences in countries’ agricultural systems and policies. The main explanations, and thus leverage points for policies, are differences in countries’ pesticide regulations, their share of organic farming, and type of crops that are grown. We find a trade-off between pesticide pollution risk and soil erosion only in the Americas and in Asia, but not elsewhere, and we do not find a trade-off between pesticide pollution risk and crop yield gaps.

Journal of Agricultural Economics: We test and quantify the (in)stability of farmer risk preferences, accounting for both the instability across elicitation methods and instability over time. We use repeated measurements (N = 1530) with Swiss fruit and grapevine producers over 3 years, using different risk preference elicitation methods (domain-specific self-assessment and incentivised lotteries). We find that farmers' risk preferences change considerably when measured using different methods. For example, self-reported risk preference and findings from a Holt and Laury lottery correlate only weakly (correlation coefficients range from 0.06 to 0.23). Moreover, we also find that risk preferences vary considerably over time, that is, applying the same elicitation method to the same farmer in a different point in time results in different risk preference estimates. Our results show self-reported risk preferences are moderately correlated (correlation coefficients range from 0.42 to 0.55) from one year to another. Finally, we find experiencing crop damages due to climate extremes and pests is associated with farmers becoming more risk tolerant over time in specific domains.

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