Minimising ecological and social externalities in tropical crop expansion

With growing demand for tropical agricultural products, including palm oil, rubber and wood-pulp, there is an urgent need to find sustainability between natural ecosystems, people and economics. Each crop has an emerging crop-specific sustainability initiative in varying degrees of development aimed at reducing the wider environmental and social damage they cause (negative externalities). However, planning methods and resulting land-use plans of government resource-use agencies and industry rarely take into account competition between crops and agricultural externalities, which increases the conflicts between environment, society and different crop types for land.

Focusing on natural rubber in Southeast Asia and West Africa, our project aims to develop a spatial model for the expansion of rubber agriculture and simulate optimal landscape plans for multiple crops that maximize ecological, social and economic sustainability. In addition, via collaboration with a network of commodity producer and purchaser companies, we hope to assess the most relevant ecological and social impacts of rubber agriculture and expansion, and analyse different ways of internalizing externalities.

I am passionate about wider engagement beyond my department and my research. As part of a team of Grantham scholars tasked with producing an audit report to inform the University of Sheffield’s first Sustainability Strategy, we spent a few months in 2018 conducting the audit and writing a 50-page audit report (read the strategy here). I am also part of the Sustainability Committee at the Students’ Union, where we represent the student voice in the SU and at the University via different platforms. We also organise events to engage students about sustainability issues (ranging from the injustice in fast fashion; debating a ban on meat sales at the SU; and social events to bring together sustainability-minded people), and campaign for changes at the university.

Here you can read a blog I wrote about my work during my MS studying cempedak – a fruit which grows in my home country of Malaysia and is the focus of my first first-author paper.

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Maria Wang Mei Hua

Supervisor

Dr David Edwards

Department of Animal and Plant Sciences

Co-Supervisors

Martin Hollands

Birdlife International

Roman Carrasco

National University of Singapore