News Release 

Palm oil's potential to alleviate poverty depends on where it's grown

Expansion of oil palm production in remote forest areas requires careful planning and evaluation if the communities are to benefit, according to a report by researchers at the University of Kent

University of Kent

Expansion of oil palm production in remote forest areas requires careful planning and evaluation if the communities are to benefit, according to a report by researchers at the University of Kent.

Their findings show that unsustainable livelihoods, socioeconomic inequality and environmental issues remain major challenges in the oil palm industry. The research, entitled Does oil palm agriculture help alleviate poverty? A multidimensional counterfactual assessment of oil palm development in Indonesia is published in the journal World Development.

The researchers investigated the claim by palm oil producing countries that oil palm agriculture helps alleviate poverty, despite limited evidence about the contribution of this crop on villager's well-being.

The research was led by a multi-national team led Dr Truly Santika with Dr Matthew Struebig and Professor Erik Meijaard, from Kent's Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology along with colleagues in Indonesia, Australia and other countries. They examined the association between the development of oil palm plantations and change in objective measures of well-being between 2000 and 2014 across 6,600 villages in Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo.

The researchers found that social impacts are difficult to generalise as positive or negative. Improved socioeconomic welfare was found where the villages already had a market based economy, typically in areas with low forest cover. The opposite was found in remote villages relying on subsistence-based livelihoods and with higher forest cover, as well as in more recent palm plantations. Overall, and regardless of location, villages in Kalimantan saw slower improvements to social and environmental well-being if they grew oil palm compared to those that didn't.

Dr Struebig said: 'The research tells us that the potential for oil palm to alleviate poverty depends crucially on the social and environmental context of where it's grown. Countries should think twice about expanding agriculture in forested regions if they are to maximise benefits to local people'.

Does oil palm agriculture help alleviate poverty? A multidimensional counterfactual assessment of oil palm development in Indonesia (Truly Santika, Erik Meijaard and Matthew Struebig, Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE), University of Kent; Kerrie Wilson, Queensland University of Technology; Sugeng Budiharta, Indonesian Institute of Sciences; Elizabeth Law, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research; Tun Min Poh, Borneo Futures; Marc Ancrenaz, IUCN Oil Palm Task Force) is published in the journal World Development.

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Established in 1965, the University of Kent - the UK's European university - now has almost 20,000 students across campuses or study centres at Canterbury, Medway, Tonbridge, Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome.

It was ranked 22nd in the Guardian University Guide 2018 and in June 2017 was awarded a gold rating, the highest, in the UK Government's Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).

In 2018 it was also ranked in the top 500 of Shanghai Ranking's Academic Ranking of World Universities and 47th in the Times Higher Education's (THE) new European Teaching Rankings.

Kent is ranked 17th in the UK for research intensity (REF 2014). It has world-leading research in all subjects and 97% of its research is deemed by the REF to be of international quality.

Along with the universities of East Anglia and Essex, Kent is a member of the Eastern Arc Research Consortium.

The University is worth £0.7 billion to the economy of the south east and supports more than 7,800 jobs in the region. Student off-campus spend contributes £293.3m and 2,532 full-time-equivalent jobs to those totals.

Kent has received two Queen's Anniversary prizes for Higher and Further Education.

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