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Informing more sustainable development of the oil palm industry

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Matthew Hayes.

Oil palm is a cash crop that is grown across the tropics. It is highly productive (yielding 4-10 times more oil than alternatives like soy and rapeseed) and is therefore vital to global food security. Oil palm cultivation also provides jobs and income to millions of people in low-income and lower-middle income countries. However, the conversion of natural habitat to oil palm plantations has also caused severe ecological damage across the tropics. This has led to campaigns to boycott oil palm production, but these are likely to only increase investment in lower-yielding alternative crops, which require more land to produce the same amount of oil. Instead, we could focus energies on identifying management strategies that improve biodiversity within existing oil palm plantations. This is important from conservation and productivity perspectives, as many species provide important services (e.g. pollination) that help oil palm growth and yields.

My talk will overview how three management strategies – replanting of oil palm, use of herbicides, and restoration of land along rivers – can improve biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in large-scale oil palm plantations in Sumatra, Indonesia. I will then shift focus to West Africa (oil palm’s native range), to discuss how oil palm cultivation affects native ecosystems in Liberia. Collectively, my research aims to inform more sustainable management of the global oil palm industry.

This talk is part of the Wolfson College Science Society series.

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