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SEI brief

Biofuels, oil palm and agribusiness in Southeast Asia – planning for sustainability?

This brief draws together SEI research done between 2011 and 2014 on agribusiness developments – especially of oil palm – in Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.


Larsen, R.K., A. Atteridge, E. Kemp-Benedict, H. Nguyen and M. Osbeck, (2015). Biofuels, oil palm and agribusiness in Southeast Asia – planning for sustainability?.

The brief presents overarching insights from that work, along with recommendations for how the industry could be governed more sustainably and aligned more closely with the interests of local people.

Agribusiness ventures – especially the cultivation of oil palm – have mushroomed throughout Southeast Asia in recent years driven by local and global demand for food and fuel. SEI’s research has examined the social and ecological impacts of these developments from the perspective of governance and corporate accountability. The brief presents key insights from this work, noting that, often, biofuels developments do not bring promised benefits, are based on unclear land tenure, and leave small-scale producers vulnerable. Also, those legal frameworks and environmental provisions that do exist are weakly implemented.

All four case studies indicate that inclusive, upstream development planning is crucial if the industry is to become sustainable, and that national governments should resist investment pressure, which often runs ahead of planning processes and structured public and political discussions on development alternatives. The authors argue that there is a need to thoroughly rethink regulatory and policy frameworks around agribusiness and biofuels development in Southeast Asia, and make recommendations for how development actors and governments can move forward, as well as set out a future research agenda that can support efforts to do so.

Download the brief (PDF 1.1MB)

SEI authors

Eric Kemp-Benedict
Eric Kemp-Benedict

SEI Affiliated Researcher


Rasmus Kløcker Larsen

Team Leader: Rights and Equity

SEI Headquarters

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