Agriculture is expanding mainly in the tropics. However, interactions between tropical land use and ecosystem function, as well as their socio-economic outcomes, are often poorly characterized. We leverage diverse methods including innovative analysis of remote sensing products, land change modeling, and field data collected using natural and social science methods to provide spatially-explicit datasets that can be used to examine these important research objectives. Our work is solutions-oriented and informs environmental policies and practices at local to global scales. Current research projects are summarized below.

Assessing the Influence of Zero Deforestation Supply-Chain Commitments on the Conservation of Ecosystems

Funding: National Science Foundation Geography and Spatial Sciences & National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center

Collaborators: Rachael Garrett & Nelson Villoria

Location: South America and Southeast Asia

Description: International agricultural supply chains originating in the tropics are the focus of diverse efforts, such as zero-deforestation commitments by companies, to improve the sustainability of agriculture. Many of these initiatives rely on sourcing products that are certified as sustainable by third parties who frequently employ practice-based standards. Yet, the effects of such non-state market based governance initiatives on environmental and social outcomes remain largely untested. This project broadly examines how novel environmental governance initiatives levied on tropical agriculture alter land use and livelihoods. To do so, we are modeling the potential impacts of zero-deforestation commitments in the soybean sector of South America and the oil palm sector in Southeast Asia.

Labor Migration and Effects of Remittances and Commodity Enclosures on Industrial Agriculture and Forest Landscapes

Funding: National Science Foundation Geography and Spatial Sciences

Collaborators: Nancy Peluso, Lisa Kelley & Suraya Affif

Location: Indonesia

Description: Circular labor migration and the mobility of capital are tremendously important for rural livelihoods and landscape making in Asia, where millions of people and substantial funds regularly move long distances between home and work sites. Through billions of dollars in remittances, labor migrants are infusing cash into rural areas, causing shifts in local labor regimes of agrarian production, household relations, and household accumulation strategies, and generating short and long-term shifts in land use and land cover. At the same time, governments and corporate investors have been appropriating massive amounts of land for industrial-scale production of agricultural and forest commodities, altering landscapes and rural employment opportunities. Yet, the effects of remittances on land use, land cover, and resource control in communities adjacent to and constituted by large-scale agricultural and forest concessions remain understudied. This project will examine linkages between tropical commodity concessions and global labor migration from these regions.

Evaluating the environmental and socio-economic outcomes of oil palm sustainability certification

Funding: NASA New (Early Career) Investigator Program in Earth Science

Collaborators: Robert Heilmayr, Holly Gibbs, Douglas Morton, National Wildlife Federation, Jane Hill & Sarah Scriven

Location: Indonesia and Malaysia

Description: This research aims to evaluate the environmental and socio-economic effects of sustainability certification by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) using spaceborne remote sensing coupled with field data collection. Since 2000, voluntary sustainability standards for tropical commodities, especially palm oil, have grown substantially. About 20% of total palm oil production is now certified by the RSPO. Oil palm plantation expansion is associated with environmental and social harm including greenhouse gas emissions, water quality degradation, and rural livelihood change. The RSPO standard outlines environmental, economic, and social guidelines that could generate substantial improvements over these current socio-environmental outcomes. Yet, the benefits of certification remain unclear. Counterfactual analyses are required to establish whether certification confers additionality beyond business as usual. Discerning the factors contributing to certification success will support future improvements to standard design and implementation. This project will assess how certification leads to improved outcomes, and leverage recently-available spaceborne datasets to improve basic understanding of oil palm yields.

Mapping High Carbon Stock Forests

Funding: Google

Collaborators: Gary Paoli, National Wildlife Federation & Robert Heilmayr

Description: Diverse companies in the agricultural sector have recently committed to eliminate tropical deforestation from their supply chains. The High Carbon Stock (HCS) Approach supports these commitments by providing a set of transparent and science-based steps to discern biodiverse, carbon-rich forests from other areas. This project applies the HCS Approach over Sumatra and Borneo islands using Google Earth Engine. We are using field-based forest structure assessments to support classification of multispectral satellite data to major HCS land cover classes.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Global Agriculture

CollaboratorsGlobal Landscapes Initiative at the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota

Description: Currently, the food system contributes about a third of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Improving cropland ’emissions efficiency’ – the amount of food produced relative to greenhouse gas emissions associated with this production – is necessary to jointly meet future climate and food targets. While agricultural expansion (e.g., forest clearing for croplands) is a commonly-recognized source of carbon dioxide emissions, agricultural management is also associated with net emissions, including nitrous oxide from fertilizer application, methane from rice flooding, and carbon dioxide from peatland draining. This project aims to assess the emissions efficiency of global croplands, with focus on individual crops and countries.