Minimising ecological and social externalities in tropical crop expansion

Lead supervisor: Dr David Edwards, Animal and Plant Sciences
Co-supervisor(s): Dr Sanjay Lanka, Management SchoolMartin Hollands, BirdLife International

Deadline: Thursday 23 February 2017

Applications for this project have now closed.

Project description

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 (externalities). A major overlooked impediment is the planning methodologies and resulting plans of government resource-use agencies, which increases the conflicts between environment, society and different crop types for land. Focusing on West Africa and Southeast Asia, this Scholarship will: (1) Quantify the ecological and social externalities of agricultural expansion. (2) Determine the economic costs and benefits of companies internalizing these externalities. (3) Spatially simulate optimal landscape plans for multiple crops that maximize ecological, social and economic sustainability. We seek applicants with interests in tropical conservation science and environmental economics, with enthusiasm for computer-based research and some fieldwork.

For many tropical crops, there is an emerging crop-specific sustainability initiative in varying degrees of development. By taking a single crop approach to sustainability, there is increasing evidence that crops are competing with each other for suitable areas for expansion. For example, restrictions on deforestation for oil palm are resulting in a massive conversion of jungle rubber in Indonesia and jungle cocoa in West Africa to monoculture oil palm, marginalizing these small-holders, and resulting in deforestation for rubber and cocoa elsewhere. Thus isolation between sustainability initiatives promotes competitive maximization that can result in perverse outcomes, indicating a need for a step change in thinking that instead promotes collaborative optimization.

Major corporations are increasingly becoming aware via Natural Capital thinking that they must internalize the costs of the wider social and environmental damage they cause (externalities). Critical is an accurate quantification of externalities through the supply chain in preparation for internalization. Even if they achieve this, a major overlooked impediment remaining is the lack of Natural Capital thinking in the planning methodologies and resulting plans of government resource-use agencies, which increases the conflicts between society, natural systems, and different crop types, fueled by external economic interests. Developing enhanced spatial planning that in corporates externalities to limit perverse outcomes is a key frontier.

This Grantham Scholarship will focus on West Africa and Southeast Asia where oil palm, rubber, cocoa, and paper-pulp companies are competing to expand as land runs out. It will meet three Objectives:

(1) Quantify the ecological and social externalities of agricultural expansion using methodologies of the Natural Capital Alliance. Ecological values will include biodiversity, protected areas, and restoration, and social values will include food sovereignty and water.

(2) Determine the economic costs and benefits of internalising the externalities from Objective 1, and thus moving the burden of environmental and social costs to consumers.

(3) Spatially simulate optimal landscape plans for multiple crops that maximize ecological, social and economic sustainability via collaboration with a network of commodity producer and purchaser companies who are working with co-supervisor Martin Hollands.

Keywords: tropical agriculture, environmental economics, rainforest biodiversity, agricultural policy, Natural Capital, commodity supply chains

Subject areas: Ecology and Conservation, Agricultural Sciences, Economics, Environmental Science, Geography, Data Analysis, Political Science and International Studies, Development Studies, Statistics, Business and Management

Funding notes

This four-year studentship will be fully funded at Home/EU or international rates. Support for travel and consumables (RTSG) will also be made available at standard rate of £2,627 per annum, with an additional one-off allowance of £1,000 for a computer in the first year.  Students will receive an annual stipend of £17,336.