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Join the field school on palm oil and sustainability in Indonesia

15 March 2019
Two-week field school takes 20 students to Indonesia
Discover more about the complexities of working in development agriculture, with this field school in Indonesia held between semester 1 and 2 this year.
Palm oil

Palm oil is made from the red mesocarp of the fruit of oil palms - photo from the 2018 field school in Indonesia.

If you’re an undergraduate science student, then you’re invited to apply for the ‘Field school on palm oil and sustainability in Indonesia’, to run from 26 June to 10 July 2019.

The field school is particularly relevant for students in agriculture, environment, food and agribusiness, and resource management. It is also suitable for students in other fields who are interested in development issues, including how business decisions and environmental management are influenced by social, cultural, economic and political factors.

“This field school will interest you if you’re passionate about the global environment, are concerned about greenhouse gas emissions, or troubled by palm oil,” said Dr Kim-Yen Phan-Thien, from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences in the Faculty of Science, and coordinator of the field school.

“We’ll be taking the group of 20 students to Indonesia to examine peatland management and palm oil production, as a case study to explore complex issues related to agricultural land use, environmental sustainability, and community livelihoods,” said Dr Phan-Thien.

About the field school

“Oil palm is a controversial crop, in large part because of its association with fire and peatland devastation. In 2015, a devastating fire swept through peatland in Indonesia, burning more than 2 million hectares, and emitting an acrid haze that affected millions of people across Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia,” said Dr Phan-Thien.  

“With the Paris Agreement, which started in 2016 as an international framework for 55 countries to undertake efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is timely to examine the role of peatland as a massive carbon sink and potential time bomb. On the other hand, world demand for oil for use in food, fuel and other industrial applications is immense and escalating. Oil palm is highly productive, renewable, and provides livelihoods to local farmers – but can it be produced ethically and sustainably?” 

During the field school, you will practise participatory research skills through engagement with a range of stakeholders, and work in interdisciplinary groups to develop a critical yet nuanced understanding of resource management in a developing country context.

The Indonesian partners who are hosting the field school include the University of North Sumatra and Indonesian Centre for Agricultural Land Resources Research and Development in Bogor. 

Our visit to the Australian embassy encouraged us to start the trip with an overarching view of how we, as not just individuals, but as Australian citizens were to approach the learning. The visit provided valuable political, economic and developmental context. We learnt about Indonesia’s wealth distribution, the prevalence of poverty, the country’s social and economic development and how Australia’s relationship with Indonesia has changed, shifting from a donor-recipient model to an advice and expertise-giving model.
2018 field school student
Students on the 2018 Field School in Indonesia

Students on the 2018 Field School on Palm Oil and Sustainability in Indonesia.

When:

The field school will run from 26 June to 10 July 2019, in between semesters. There will also be several pre-departure tutorials, a language and culture training day in June, and post-trip presentations. 

Where: 

The field school will take you to Jakarta, Bogor and North Sumatra. You will visit government agencies, NGOs, research institutes, peatland areas, oil palm plantations, and local communities.

Who: 

The field school is open to undergraduate Faculty of Science students. It is particularly relevant for students in agriculture, environment, food and agribusiness, and resource management. It would also be suitable for students in other fields who are interested in development issues, including how business decisions and environmental management are influenced by social, cultural, economic and political factors. 

The staff coordinating this trip are Dr Kim-Yen Phan-Thien, Professor Budiman Minasny and Associate Professor Damien Field

Scholarships: 

The field school is supported by the New Colombo Plan. If you are a domestic student and the field trip is credited to your degree, then you will be eligible for a $3000 scholarship. 

Enrolment options: 

  • BScAgr students have the option of counting the trip towards their AFNR4001 Professional Development requirements. 
  • BFoodAgrib and other Science students can be credited through SCIP3002 Science International Placement Project. 

How to apply:

To register your interest, complete the online application form by 5 April 2019.

Email kim-yen.phan-thien@sydney.edu.au or budiman.minasny@sydney.edu.au if you have any questions.

The field school gave me a better appreciation of difficulties faced by West Sumatran farmers. As well as low prices and sensitivity to global markets, farmers did not have a representative body in their region, meaning their village lacked cohesion or an ability to put forward a united front to lobby for more assistance from the government, or face challenges. There was also a lack of education of how to best utilise land to grow the most desirable and high performing crops, including pesticide and fertiliser usage. Accessing this advice would be logistically too far to travel, or require the sacrifice of valuable farming time. I was in awe of their apparent resilience, cheerfulness and kindness despite these issues.
2018 field school student