Lead
OPAL seeks to explore alternative scenarios for oil palm expansion to inform policy and land use development in Indonesia, Colombia and Cameroon. These scenarios, developed with local communities and oil palm companies, will merge the social, economic, and ecological drivers of oil palm development. We will assess the outcomes of different scenarios with respect to trade-offs among biodiversity, hydrological and carbon sequestration ecosystem services, and local livelihoods.

Lay summary

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 development and conservation goals in an environment with pervasive uncertainties. A better understanding of the socio-economic and ecological processes that shape environmental outcomes, and of the feedbacks that such outcomes impose on society, will help chart a path towards more sustainable and inclusive futures.

We propose to improve the management of oil palm landscapes across tropical Asia, Africa and Latin America by engaging stakeholders and agents of change with plausible oil palm development scenarios at multiple scales. These scenarios will be developed through an integrated platform that merges the social, economic, and ecological drivers that shape oil palm development. Using such a platform we will assess the outcomes of different scenarios with respect to trade-offs among biodiversity, hydrological and carbon sequestration ecosystem services, and local livelihoods.

Our consortium is led by ETH Zurich and includes international institutions (CIFOR, ICRAF, WWF etc.) and many local partners in Indonesia, Cameroon and Colombia, including representatives of oil palm companies and community interests in all three countries. We draw on the expertise and interdisciplinary nature of our consortium to undertake a long-term comparative project that spans regional contexts. Our outputs will be relevant to producers and policy makers in the target producer countries, and to consumers in Switzerland and Europe more generally.