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Speaker: Dr John F McCarthy, Senior Lecturer, Environmental Management and Development Programme, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific
Spurred by industrialisation in China and India, booming demand for vegetable oil, and the growing interest in biofuels in the developed countries, global markets for palm oil have expanded over recent years. Indonesia and Malaysia, the centre of global palm oil production, are on the in the grip of a palm oil boom. This raises fiercely contested issues of significant concern to rural landholders, decision makers, people’s organisations, ecologists, donor agencies, academics, and the international community. This paper reprises the key finding of a multi-year project, setting out a series of propositions regarding the dynamics shaping the uneven economic development and agricultural and environmental changes. It explores why the same phenomena of oil palm development can support the economic advancement of large numbers of smallholders while marginalizing vulnerable communities, exacerbating tensions, and leading to endemic local level conflicts and detrimental environmental outcomes. It analyses the linkages between agrarian and environmental change, governance systems and conflict, providing a comparative framework for understanding oil-palm related social and environmental change that will be relevant to wider policy discussions and scholarship.
John McCarthy lectures in the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy. He carries out research into issues of agrarian change, land tenure, environmental governance, and natural resource policy. He is the author of The Fourth Circle: A Political Ecology of Sumatra’s Rainforest Frontier (Stanford University Press, 2006), Community, Environment and Local Governance in Indonesia, Locating the commonweal (Routeledge, 2008), and has published in World Development, Development and Change, the Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, the Journal of Peasant Studies, Human Ecology, the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies and other journals. His current research grants are concerned with agrarian transitions and oil palm, social capital, vulnerability and livelihoods , and food security and agrarian change.