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Natural Resources and the Environment

Professor Jeff Burley
University of Oxford

Keynote: Catalysing Sustainable Prosperity, and reducing deforestation in South East Asia – choices for new political economies
Mr Andrew Mitchell, Founder and Director, and Mr Matt Leggett, Head of Policy
Global Canopy Programme, Oxford, UK and

Tropical forests contain over half of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, which, aside from its intrinsic value, acts as a store of natural capital which provides a wide range of vital ecosystem services. These ecosystem services underpin water, energy, food and health security at local to global scales, and are fundamental for the future prosperity and resilience of societies and economies. Forest degradation and conversion into agricultural land for cash crop production (notably palm oil) and the establishment of plantation forests is threatening the supply of these ecosystem services in South East Asia. Deforestation is particularly rapid in Indonesia and in the Mekong region, which has lost nearly a third of its forest cover between 1973 and 2009.  Although national and international efforts are being made to curb these unsustainable trends efforts are currently fragmented and generating little momentum. Too much emphasis is placed on greening the ‘supply’ of commodities from forest regions (forest risk commodities) and too little on addressing the sources of ‘demand’ for such products. However, opportunities exist within and beyond Asia for combining private sector incentives and regulation with new political solutions between Asian markets to re-engineer the way that forests as natural capital are accounted for and relied upon as vehicles for sustainable economic development.


  • The Sabah Biodiversity Experiment – investigating forest ecosystem services
    Professor Andrew Hector
    University of Oxford
  • Effects of Management Practices on Soil Ecosystems in Indonesian Oil Palm Plantings
    Ms Hsiao-Hang Tao
    University of Oxford 

Palm oil is one of the most widely produced vegetable oils globally. The high demand of palm oil has led to vast expansion of oil palm plantations, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia. Future projections suggest a three-fold increase in global vegetable oil demand by 2050, and the area of oil palm planting is likely to be increased. Oil palm crops are often preferred over alternative crops for oil production in the tropics due to its high cost-effectiveness. In addition, oil palm plantings store more carbon than alternative agriculture land uses. However, the conversion from natural forests to oil palm cultivation has also resulted in the reduction of ecosystem services provision, such as biodiversity, soil health, and water quality. As oil palm plantings are reaching a replanting phase in Indonesia and Malaysia, it is crucial to carefully plan the sustainable management of oil palms cultivations.

One of the increasingly recognized soil management practices on oil palms plantings is the application of the recycled oil palm residues – empty fruit bunches (EFB). Previous studies have shown that EFB application enhances soil fertility and production. However, the effects of EFB application on the soil ecosystem processes and services, such as litter decomposition, soil fauna activity and physiochemical properties, remain largely unknown. To address this knowledge gap, we have used an empirical approach to examine the influence of EFB application on soil ecosystem processes and services in an oil palm plantation in central Sumatra, Indonesia. The preliminary results showed that EFB application positively influenced soil fauna activities as well as heterogeneity in soil quality. Further analyses are underway to investigate key factors that contribute to the variable performances of soil ecosystem processes and services under EFB application management.

  • Climate Asia – people’s daily experience of climate change
    Ms Sonia Whitehead
  • Environmental law in Burma
    Dr Catherine Mackenzie
    University of Oxford
  • Medicinal plants and products from agriculture and forestry in Burma
    Prof Gerard Bodeker
    University of Oxford


  • Community forestry in SE Asia: a most practical institution – insufficiently institutionalised
    Mr James Bampton
    Center for People and Forests (RECOFT)