A regional case study was used in Malaysia for this research to investigate the ecological and economic components of forest conversion to oil palm, within a tropical floodplain system.

Lowland forests are increasingly threatened with conversion to oil palm, as global demand and high profit drives crop expansion throughout the world’s tropical regions. Yet, landscapes are not homogenous and regional biophysical constraints dictate land suitability for this crop. This research looks at Malaysia as a case-study.

The overarching goal of this research was to understand where and how to invest conservation efforts to promote forest conservation and connectivity in a seemingly high opportunity cost, oil palm dominated, floodplain landscape. The research aims:

  1. To assess oil palm profitability for a tropical floodplain landscape to understand spatial variability in opportunity cost. 
  2. To understand the conservation value of logged and fragmented lowland tropical forest within a floodplain landscapes for vegetation types, carbon stock and threatened mammal species.
  3. To identify and assess alternative finance mechanisms (REDD+ and RSPO) for avoiding deforestation and promoting sustainable development, compared with profitability of business-as-usual oil palm.
  4. To identify relevant policy barriers for implementation of pro-conservation alternative finance mechanisms and discuss policy options for implementation of these mechanisms, to improve land use management for enhancing biodiversity conservation and sustainable development practices.

Understanding landscape level constraints for oil palm in floodplain systems and transferring this information into policy and practice is essential to help ensure more sustainable land usage in these seemingly high opportunity cost landscapes. This in turn, could provide conservation opportunities for safeguarding biodiversity in areas of high conservation value, which might otherwise have experienced forest conversion to crops such as oil palm.

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