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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: October 2014 to November 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 March 14 to 26, 2018, CI Indonesia hosted an exchange internship with CI Brazil, CI Europe, and the CI Moore Center in Medan, Sumatra, to discuss the agenda of sustainable palm oil worldwide. During this event, the project team from Brazil visited a palm oil plantation and a factory in South Tapanuli, held meetings with Sumatra government agencies, and presented the results of this project and the team’s strategy for the Endemism Center of Belém (CEB) region.

During this reporting period, the team also worked to finalize the landscape profile of the CEB by developing a geospatial database containing 24 directories with 3,734 files and 17.8 gigabytes of information. This database was built with seven pillars (cartographic base, infrastructure, natural physical framework, natural capital, production systems, human well-being, and territory and governance) that are divided into 39 specific themes such as water, carbon storage, climate, socioeconomics, education, and health, among others. This database not only provides a better overview of the region but also facilitates important analyses of priority areas for conservation and development of ecological corridors, as it reduces scientific uncertainties and makes information available for the participatory decision-making process on land use.

Of particular note for this project is the fact that the CEB is the most degraded of the nine endemism centers of the Amazon and still shelters a rich and unique biodiversity. The biggest challenge for the team is to develop innovative and productive activities capable of generating employment and income for the local people, without destroying natural capital and degrading the region. There is a complex need in the region for continuous data updates, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are important tools for planning and managing the territory. The use of GIS allows for a considerable increase of knowledge about the territory in addition to supporting communication with the public and critical spatial analysis, which provides agility to the decision making processes.

The team plans to hire a consultant in the coming months who will assist the team with the socioeconomic analysis aspects of the project and the team will also begin planning for the next meeting of the Palm Dialogue.

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