Several social and industrial factors contribute to tropical deforestation, including agricultural practices, land grabs and land speculation. The way land is used is a consequence of interweaving social, economic and environmental factors, yet it is still unclear exactly how these interact on a case-by-case basis and on a global scale. The LAMAR project explored some of these relationships, investigating conservation, agricultural and social practices, including both top-down and bottom-up approaches to land management. The project sought to investigate conflicts and trade-offs between different land use practices, for example looking at how smallholder farming systems for crops such as palm oil and cocoa lead to ecosystem change. The end goal is to see how sustainable practices can be enhanced in the long term to reduce tropical deforestation and help mitigate climate change, while feeding into policies to improve food security as well as local livelihoods. Smallholders play a key role in the production of palm oil and other key commodities. Yet current sustainability initiatives, such as certification, are not well designed to address their needs, and pose a threat to smallholder livelihoods. "For this reason we were very excited to host the LAMAR project, designed and led by researcher Kaysara Khatun,” explains Constance L. McDermott from Oxford University and LAMAR project supervisor.
Into the field
The LAMAR project used targeted field work, looking at smallholder cocoa and palm oil production in Ghana and Indonesia. The studies looked at a wide range of agricultural producers: from independent farmers in Ghana harvesting native palm kernels for household use, to shareholder agricultural systems in Indonesia, co-producing standardised palm oil products for multi-national firms and global commodity markets. The team wanted to find out how and whether certification for products like palm oil was having an impact on the livelihoods of local farmers. There were two lines of research. The first aimed to understand the management of ‘ecosystem services’ – benefits that humans can reap from the natural environment – and how this ties in with more established land commodities and agricultural practices. This incorporated ecosystem services relating to human livelihoods, but also the way that human practices have an effect on the environment itself, and the resilience of such ecosystems. The second research channel explored how land appropriation for commodities impacts local societies. This specifically explored the global demand for two cash crops: palm oil and cocoa. This research line also explored the myriad national and international policies and demands that may fuel land grabs, such as deforestation.
Reaping the research rewards
Many of these social and agricultural practices are hotly debated and are not completely understood. The insights gained through the LAMAR project will feed into and inspire other academic research in the area, particularly in regards to economic globalisation, the ongoing biodiversity crisis and the looming threat of climate change. The resulting studies published through the project will contribute to the scientific literature on sustainable forestry and commodity production chains. The various findings will also be useful in designing future policies to promote sustainable production and global food security. “Our Land use and environmental change programme here at ECI would like to continue work in this general research area, understanding which types of governance approaches and strategies are most promising for supporting sustainable local livelihoods,” says McDermott. This research was undertaken with the support of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie programme.
LAMAR, land, management, climate, Ghana, Indonesia, cocoa, palm, oil