The Politics and Governance of Palm Oil Expansion in Southeast Asia


Double Panel

Part 1

Session 7
Thu 13:30–15:00 Room 1.404

Part 2

Session 8
Thu 15:30–17:00 Room 1.404


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The current palm oil boom is arguably one of the most rapid agro-environmental transformations in modern history. The rapid expansion of oil palm expansion is beset with problems, ranging from deforestation and forest fires to pollution and conflicts between companies and rural communities over access to land. Governments from Malaysia and Indonesia to Thailand, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea are struggling to deal with these challenges. The palm oil industry has adopted multi-stakeholder initiatives like the RSPO to improve (the image of) palm oil production, while rural communities throughout Southeast Asia are mobilising to pressurize companies and powerholders to address their grievances. At the same time palm oil expansion has generated informal, collusive connections between palm oil companies and political actors which has greatly complicated such efforts.

This panel aims to bring together studies on the varied character of these responses to palm oil expansion in different Southeast Asian countries. While there is a considerable literature on the governance of palm oil expansion, comparative studies have been scarce. Yet an understanding of (the effects of) palm oil expansion call for as comparative approach: as similar problems land in countries with different political, legal and societal settings, it provides a unique opportunity to study how these local contexts shape the different ways in which countries (fail to) manage the growth of oil palm plantations. When and under what conditions can rural communities succeed in addressing their grievances vis-à-vis palm oil companies? How do differing political contexts in Indonesia or Malaysia affect the capacity of governments to prevent deforestations and forest fires? And in what ways do differing legal regimes regarding (communal) land rights affect the politics of palm oil expansion? By bringing together informed (case-) studies from across Southeast Asia, this panel aims to take up such questions to better understand how the character of local politics and governance shapes palm oil expansion.