Oil Palm Adaptive Landscapes (OPAL)

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.

​​​​​About the project

  • Background

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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.

  • Objectives

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    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.

    In particular, the project aims to:

    • develop an understanding of the socio-political, economic and ecological drivers shaping landscape transformation associated with oil palm development under different manageme nt systems, including understanding interactions among the biophysical processes that underpin ecosystem services
    • construct scenarios of possible futures using participatory group modelling that explicitly addresses different management and policy options to identify environmental and socio-economic trade-offs
    • link science to practice by embedding research in policy dialogues and decision making processes on management and regulatory frameworks at regional, national and sub-nation al scales.
  • Relevance

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    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.

  • Highlights and selected results

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    Cameroon : A role playing game (CoPalCam) describing the palm oil supply chain has been successfully used as a boundary object to engage the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Palm Oil, responsible for regulating palm oil pricing in Cameroon. This brought together government participants from Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, six smallholder cooperatives, and representatives of the agro-industry (CDC) and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). Smallholder cooperatives are now being considered by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development as a possible policy option to reduce costs, boost production, and maximise profits.
    Another CoPalCam game session was organized with participants representing five government ministries, Ministry of Environment, Nature Protection and Sustainable Development, Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Ministry of Mines and Technological Development, and Ministry of Commerce, Smallholders, Agro-industry, as well as representatives of second transformation industries (ASROC, AZUR), and the Institute of Agricultural Research for Development (IRAD). The outcome was increased motivation for cooperation between the various players in the sector, specifically on issues such as seedling expense, producer collaboration, road infrastructure, and new production techniques. Responses to these constraints identified by participants included financial management support for smallholders and improved access to fertilizers, and viable rural cooperatives.
    Two students from the University of Dschang (FASA) and University of Montpellier completed their Masters dissertations: “Contribution of palm oil production to household economy” (Marie Gaëlle NGO NJIKI); and “Smallholdings or agro-industries? Which model for oil palm development in Cameroon” (Théo Martin). The recommendations emerging from these research studies will be used to leverage policy dialogues in the final process of elaborating the Government National Sustainable Palm Oil Strategy.

    Indonesia : Ongoing research by two PhD students has revealed: 1) A shift in rural livelihoods from previously diverse sources (i.e. agriculture, fisheries, trade) to livelihoods that are more dependent on oil palm plantations. 2) Insufficient clarity about contractual agreements and nucleus-plasma arrangements leads to “silent expansion” of oil palm in the landscape. Progress on sustainability through certification has shown mixed results, due to the nature of alternative oil palm markets. 3) Different partnership arrangements between companies and smallholders for the management of plantations and purchase of oil palm fruit bunches influences producer perspectives on certification. 4) The recent establishment of mills without associated plantations encourages the expansion of oil palm land clearing by independent smallholders where management is poor, there is little oversight, and limited opportunities or interest to engage in certification schemes. 5) The lack of legality and legitimacy around oil palm plantation development in the district of Kutai Kartanegara District poses a significant problem for achieving sustainability goals.

    Colombia : A disconnect has been identified between national and local policies and planning, which has been reinforced by the lack of dialogue and flow of information between stakeholders at these scales.
    At local scales, palm oil producers identify access to water as the most critical resource in the palm oil sector. Water resources are an essential component of planning through the year, but institutional frameworks to manage such planning are inefficient or contentious. There is also increasing concern about the growing demand for water resources at a time when future climatic uncertainties for the region are high. The presence of the oil industry increases the value of land, which can constrain oil palm developments, but also leads to improvements in transport infrastructure, which represents one of the most significant costs for the palm oil industry in the Llanos region. Palm oil exports from Colombia are primarily for European biodiesel. Recent moves in the European parliament to ban palm oil as a constituent in biodiesel would seriously impact EU policies on biofuels are a major concern for the future of the Colombian palm oil.

    Switzerland : The OPAL project has been active across Europe in influencing policy and raising awareness. Specific outcomes include: 1) The Montpellier Declaration External Link Icon: Europe’s central role in advancing sustainable palm oil. 2) Representation on the Greenpeace Scientific Advisory Board on High Carbon Stock standards in oil palm plantations. 3) Capacity building and training on ComMod in Switzerland, Utrecht, and Wageningen using OPAL outputs as case studies. 4) CoPalCam workshop with NGOs, industry, and policy representatives in Zurich. Public panel events and outreach into secondary schools.

  • Geographic scope

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    • Ca meroon
    • Colombia
    • Indon esia
  • Project website and links to P3

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