This paper presents a bio-economic model of Andit Tid, a severely degraded crop-livestock farming system with high population density and good market access in the highlands of Ethiopia. Land degradation, population growth, stagnant technology, and drought threaten food security in the area. Drought or weather risk appears to have increased in recent years. The bio-economic model is used to analyse the combined effects of land degradation, population growth, market imperfections and increased risk of drought on household production, welfare and food security. We find that the indirect effects of drought on household welfare through the impact on crop and livestock prices are larger than the direct production effects of drought. Provision and adoption of credit for fertiliser, although risky in itself, may lead to increased grain production and improved household welfare and food security. Provision of credit may have a negative effect on conservation incentives but this effect may be mitigated by linking a conservation requirement to the provision of credit for fertiliser. © 2003 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.