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A reseacher’s perspective

Associate Professor in Economics Jurgen Peci shares insight to the controversy of palm oil from a researcher's point of view in a short article.

Course Educator and Associate Professor in Economics Jurgen Peci shares insight to the controversy of palm oil from a researcher’s point of view, as well as some of the vital research currently taking place.

Palm oil is a critical subject among researchers, where recently there has been an increased focus on the sustainability front, spanning economic, social, and environmental dimensions.

The article ‘Co-producing a Research Agenda for Sustainable Palm Oil’ shows an increasing number of peer-reviewed journal papers, published yearly and indexed within Web of Science, mentioning the word “palm oil” or “oil palm” between 1970 – 2017.

Graph taken from ‘Co-producing a Research Agenda for Sustainable Palm Oil’

Intriguingly, this increase in scholarly publications closely parallels not just the rising global production, consumption, and trade of palm oil but also escalating global concerns regarding the industry.

Researchers in the palm oil industry cover a broad and diverse range of topics. These topics range from boosting production yields in palm oil-producing nations, dissecting global value chains and trade dynamics worldwide, to understanding consumer behaviour in countries where palm oil is heavily consumed. Despite the expansive landscape of research, which is constrained only by the limits of human creativity, there is a common thread that ties these efforts together: an overarching aim to improve the sustainability of the palm oil sector.

A significant initiative that has gained attention in recent years is the Trade, Development & the Environment Hub, also known as the ‘Trade Hub’ project. This venture is a collaboration between the Global Challenges Research Fund, the United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI – GCRF) and the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). It has united over 300 researchers globally with a shared goal: to explore the complex interactions between trade-driven human development and its impact on the environment.

The project recognises that:

“While trade in natural and agricultural goods has long been a key part of economic growth, removing too many wild animals or plants can cause populations to decline and ultimately crash. Clearing land for crops also removes important habitat for wildlife and threatens water, air and soil.”

Within this context, the scope of research is diverse, ranging from examining farmers’ production practices and systems to exploring the broader ecological and societal impacts. The research also investigates the ripple effects of high-level policy decisions on the industry.

The focus of research varies across institutions, countries, and product sectors. While numerous crops are subjects of ongoing studies, in the context of the palm oil sector, below are some of the institutions and their ongoing research:

At the University of California, Irvine (UCI) the focus is on palm oil development in Cameroon, where researchers seek to understand how financial gains influence smallholder farmers’ decisions to invest in oil palm cultivation and crude palm oil (CPO) production.

At the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in Indonesia researchers are focusing on: – Developing a business case for sustainable oil palm production. – Creating a new version of the Landscape Game to model how human activities impact landscapes, and – Utilizing a geo-platform called Atlas to monitor sustainable palm oil commitments in Borneo and Papua.

Researchers at University of York (UoY) TRASE are focused on modelling the impacts of palm oil plantations on biodiversity and their links to the global supply chain.

Congo Basin Institute (CBI) and International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) are compiling a Central African database for palm oil concessions and examining the ecological and social ramifications of international palm oil production in the Congo Basin.

At the University of Reading (UoR), researchers are investigating trade rules, primarily by collecting data on non-tariff measures (NTMs) that regulate international palm oil trade and constructing econometric models. While the results of this current research are still forthcoming, Course Educator Jurgen Peci shares his expertise and perspective as a researcher in ‘My Research Journey Amid the Palm Oil Controversies’.

Furthermore, considerable emphasis is placed on capacity building, particularly aimed at enhancing researchers’ skills. This involves a focus on interdisciplinary learning and knowledge exchange, and seeks to engage early-career researchers and professionals to generate actionable insights for decision-makers in high-risk, forested landscapes.

These global challenges increasingly emphasise that Earth is a unified entity, regardless of the geographical or political divisions that separate us. To highlight this, complete the following task:

  • Look for articles, papers, or reports on current research regarding the palm oil industry. The research can be on any aspect of the industry: from sustainability practices to economic impacts to policy implications.
  • Once you’ve found a research item that interests you, summarise the main points, and include the source link in the comment area, below.
  • Browse through other learners’ posts. Read the research that’s been shared and like or reply to anything you find insightful or interesting.
  • While commenting, you may choose to discuss the implications of the research, ask questions, or share additional resources that are related.

Tips for posting:

  • Try to summarize the research in your own words.
  • If the research is technical, break it down so it’s easier for everyone to understand.
  • Mention the institution or researchers behind the study, if available.
© EIT Food
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Engaging with Controversies in the Food System: Palm Oil

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