Oil Palm; Coupled Social and Environmental Models; Participatory Modelling; Landscape; Impact pathways
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The expansion of oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) is one of the main drivers of land use change and deforestation in the tropics. This expansion provides significant economic earnings for producer countries, corporations and smallholders, but at the cost of negative externalities within and beyond the landscapes in which oil palm is grown. Stakeholders and decision makers need to devise and adopt ‘green’ development trajectories that balance better development and conservation goals in an environment with pervasive uncertainties. A better understanding of socio-economic and ecological processes that shape environmental outcomes and the feedbacks that such outcomes impose on society will help chart a path towards more sustainable and inclusive futures.We propose that (1) integrated models of future landscapes and the delivery of ecosystem services over a decadal time span, (2) informed by multiple stakeholder perspectives and developed through participatory modeling approaches and (3) embedded in the decision making processes at different levels, encompassing interrelated district, national and international scales, can improve the resilience of a socio-ecological system (SES) and help local stakeholders navigate and explore possible alternative futures and make more informed decisions. We draw on the expertise and interdisciplinary nature of our consortium, and our collective presence in several countries, to undertake a long-term comparative project that spans regional contexts, in Colombia, Cameroon and Indonesia. The novelty of this proposal lies in designing an integrative simulation platform based on extensive empirical data that effectively couples social and ecological dynamics. This platform can facilitate the establishment of a common worldview among stakeholders and will serve as the basis for better decision making, in which the trade-offs involving ecosystem services, alternative development pathways, and management options are carefully considered in natural landscapes facing oil palm expansion.