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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 3 (2014 Deadline)

Biodiversity and socio-economic impacts of palm oil bioenergy development in the Brazilian Amazon

PI:  Rodrigo Medeiros (, Conservation International do Brasil, with co-PI Luciano Montag, Universidade Federal do Pará
U.S. Partner: Kathleen E. Halvorsen, Michigan Technological University
Project Dates: September 2014 to May 2018
3-198 Biodiversity Sampling
This research project focuses on biofuel development that impacts forested systems, one of the most controversial types of energy development today (NRC-NAS 2011). The research is expected to advance science sustainability and further the understanding of impacts of palm oil biofuel development on socioecological systems in Brazil. Clean renewable energy policies, biodiversity conservation, and economic development are often studied, but generally in isolation. Using an in-depth case study approach, this project will fully integrate social and ecological scientific methods. The main benefits of this research will be: (1) understanding rural community level socioecological impacts of palm oil expansion; (2) designing policy measures that promote continuous social inclusion and biodiversity-friendly palm oil production; (3) developing new sustainability science indicators and metrics using results from the socioeconomic and biodiversity studies; and (4) increasing the research capacity of the Pan American partner institutions for graduate and postgraduate student education specializing in sustainability issues.

The results of this research project will have important consequences for the long-term sustainability of biofuel feedstock, human communities, and biodiversity conservation. The project’s final results will be shared at relevant national and international conferences and also with key regional and local stakeholders in efforts to improve small landholders’ economic benefits from palm oil and facilitate inclusion of marginalized groups in the palm oil sector. Policy recommendations from this research will assist Brazilian government institutions in policy development to increase local and national socioeconomic benefits, promoting energy independence and small landholder’s inclusion, while minimizing impacts on existing biodiversity, hence achieving sustainability. The expected project impacts are closely aligned with USAID’s interests, especially in the biodiversity, environment, and agriculture categories, since the project’s final goal is to suggest a sustainable and economically viable palm oil agriculture model in Brazil that can be a model for other developing countries in the region. Consistent with USAID’s approach, this project is taking a cross-sector approach addressing a major threat to biodiversity conservation, economic growth, and, to a lesser extent, human health and global climate change.

Summary of Recent Activities

3-198 Biodiversity Sampling 1
From April through June 2017, the biodiversity and ecological teams on this project conducted their wet season field trips. The first group to collect data during the wet season did so on amphibians, from April 12 to May 11. Almost at the same time, other researchers collected bee data April 18-28. The last group to start its field trip collected data on birds April 20 to May 6. CI Brazil staff subsequently participated in the last full team meeting of the NSF-supported project OISE-PIRE: Sustainability, Ecosystem Services, and Forest-Related Bioenergy Development across the Americas, which was held May 14-21 in Eugene, Oregon. At this meeting, the team presented updates on research findings and discussed joint publications, plans, and opportunities for continuing research in the last year of the project and in the future. In addition, June 26-29, CI Brazil convened an international meeting in Belém entitled America’s Palm Oil Exchange that provided a platform for discussion of palm oil production in five American countries (Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Colombia). A total of 15 CI staff members attended from seven different countries (Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, the United States, and France). Participants worked to define a strategy for driving palm oil production in the Amazon at a more sustainable level. During the event, CI Brazil presented the results from this PEER project and from their ongoing ten-year partnership with Agropalma as a success story to be followed by other countries in their sustainable palm oil strategy.

This PEER project is part of CI Brazil’s overall strategy and efforts on sustainable palm oil production in the Belém Endemism Center and has the potential to influence the palm oil private sector in the region. The PI Dr. Medeiros and his group are already working in partnership with two of the biggest companies in this sector in Brazil, Agropalma and Biopalma, and following the May 2017 meeting of PEER PIs and other USAID-supported implementing partners held in Brasília, they also initiated a dialogue with a Natura company representative regarding a possible partnership. With the project drawing to a close at the end of September 2017, the researchers will focus in the coming months on finishing their biological field trips (the one remaining is focused on flies) and concluding their biological and socioeconomic analyses.

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