A poor farmer in the jungles of Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, decides that she wants to try something new to improve her livelihood. With her family, they begin to clear away the forest garden near their village, and plant some oil palm seeds that she was given by a local trader. Somewhere in Europe, a man brushes his teeth, unaware that the toothpaste he is using is made from palm oil from Indonesia. Meanwhile, in a city in North America, an environmental activist group launches a campaign to save the orangutan by boycotting the use of palm oil products.
The supply chains of commodities are complex, global and able to shape nature and society. From the places where commodities are cultivated, harvested or extracted, to the places where they are consumed and disposed of, a complex array of places, people and institutions are involved. Profits are made through these commodity supply chains but most often at the expense of the natural environment. How can we ensure that commodity supply chains do not harm the natural environment? How can we ensure that the benefits from commodity supply chains are shared equitably, and that the rights of the poor and indigenous people are respected?
At INOBU, we focus on studying and understanding the complex supply chains of commodities, and their effects on nature and society. We study commodities that are cultivated whether on land or at sea: from plantation crops such as oil palm and rubber to seaweed and shrimp farming. We study commodities that are harvested: from timber and other non-timber forest products such as rattan and bamboo to freshwater and marine fisheries. We study also those commodities that are extracted through mining and the effects they have on the cultivation and harvesting of commodities for food, fuel and fibre. Through our research we ask: who benefits and who does not from commodities and why, how is the natural environment affected throughout the supply chain and, how can we improve commodity supply chains for the benefit of nature and society?