New grant for palm oil research

7792979052 53c5a9d0c6 o An oil palm plantation in Indonesia. CIFOR/flickr

A research team led by FSE director Rosamond Naylor has won a $400,000 multi-year grant to study how to create sustainable palm oil supply chains that promote economic growth and environmental sustainability in Indonesia and West Africa. 

Palm oil has become one of the world’s fastest growing and most valuable agricultural commodities. Global production of palm oil doubled in both volume and area each decade between 1970 and 2010, and is expected to double again by 2025. The windfall profits from this rapid expansion have come at a cost of tropical deforestation, biodiversity loss and rising greenhouse gas emissions, and in many cases the economic benefits have bypassed local smallholder farmers. 

"When we talk about sustainability in the palm oil industry, we mean more than saving trees," said Naylor. "The question we are getting at with this project is how can the industry boost rural incomes and alleviate poverty among smallholder farmers, while also reducing deforestation and carbon emissions. We are able to tackle this problem from social, economic and environmental angles because we have a truly cross-disciplinary group of researchers. That's a key strength of this team, and a key strength of Stanford." 

Naylor and her team of Stanford faculty, scholars and students will undertake the three-year project with funding from the Stanford Global Development and Poverty Initiative (GDP), launched in Spring 2014. GDP aims to transform Stanford’s capacity to speak to the challenges of poverty and development. This year, GDP awarded more than $2 million to 13 faculty research teams from across the university. 

The new project marks the first venture that connects Stanford’s expertise in sustainability with the Graduate School of Business’ experience in value chain innovations. The team will conduct an evaluation of value chain opportunities for sustainable palm oil production, build corporate partnerships to improve smallholder incomes, and engage in policy advising. 

GDP is a joint initiative of the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies (SEED) and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI). SEED is housed within the Stanford Graduate School of Business. 

Rosamond Naylor is William Wrigley Professor of Earth System Science and Senior Fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and at FSI.