Sustainable Agriculture in Tropical Forest Landscapes (2014)

Client Organization: 
CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security
Client is confirmed: 
Project Location : 
Sao Paulo, Brazil and Jakarta, Indonesia
Summary of Project Idea: 

Commodity agricultural production in tropical forest regions is rapidly expanding and is frequently linked to deforestation, increased emissions of greenhouse gases, losses in biodiversity, poor working conditions and wages, and land tenure conflicts. Voluntary certification programs are one type of intervention used to incentivize the agricultural commodity sector to improve sustainability. This research aims to analyze the role of voluntary certification programs in tropical landscapes. Specifically, how these programs are often challenged to boost producer participation and maintain high sustainability standards simultaneously. Together, these two factors control the additionality of the program, or its potential to motivate the industry to move beyond baseline conditions. More formal analysis is needed of the ways in which programs are structured to mitigate trade-offs between participation and high standards. This study considers these issues related to additionality from a value-creation perspective. The two case studies, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) voluntary certification program in Indonesia and the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) voluntary certification for cattle in Brazil, are used to illustrate the role of design choices in rendering sustainability outcomes.

Skills/Expertise Needed: 

Skills (essential):
-    Critical thinking
-    Detail-oriented work ethic
-    Enthusiasm and capacity to work in a team
-    Strong communication skills
Skills (desirable):
-    Experience of conducting interviews
-    Experience of conducting literature reviews
-    Experience of quantitative or qualitative data-analysis

No prior expertise or knowledge is required, but students must have a strong interest in sustainability, agriculture, forests and supply-chains.

SEAS Program Areas: 
Conservation Ecology (Aquatic Sciences, Terrestrial Ecosystems, and Conservation Biology)
Environmental Policy and Planning
Sustainable Systems
Professional Career Development Benefits: 

Students will:
-    Develop skills in literature review, survey design, semi-structured interviews, data- analysis
-    Gain knowledge of agriculture, forests, supply-chains, institutions and governance
-    Visit, and work directly with, partner institutions that may include NGOs, research institutes, or private sector companies.
-    Gain an insight into the CGIAR research network
-    Prepare and publish a CCAFS Report
-    Prepare and submit an article to a peer-reviewed journal

Funding Sources: 

CCAFS will provide $2,500 per student, to assist with travel and related expenses (confirmed)

Identify expected products/deliverables: 

1.    A database of information-based interventions.
2.    In-depth intervention case-study reports (one per student).
3.    A synthesis report that combines all case-studies under a common framework. Published and disseminated online in the CCAFS Report series.
4.    An analytical paper that identifies common elements of successful information-based interventions. Submitted to a peer-reviewed journal.

Additional Faculty Advisor(s) and Department(s): 
Peter Newton, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, SNRE
Contact full name: 
Lini Wollenberg
Job title: 
Theme Leader, Pro-poor mitigation
State or Country: 
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Arun Agrawal
Contact Phone: 
+1 802 656 9891
Advisor Confirmed: 
Contact e-mail: 
Additional Faculty Advisor(s) Confirmed: 
Contact information: 
U-M faculty member
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Ben Chen, MBA/MS Sustainable Systems
  • Hsuan-wen "Ann" Kuo, MS Conservation Ecology/Environmental Policy and Planning
  • Chanisa Niljinda, Environmental Policy and Planning 
  • Melisa Ongun, MS Sustainable Systems
  • Paul Winters, MS Environmental Policy and Planning
UM Project Contact: Peter Newton, SNRE PostDoc Research Fellow,, +1 734 709 3734
Project Status: 
Past Project