Keynote Speech @ ATBC 2018, Kuching

I was recently invited to give one of the keynote speeches for the 55th Annual Meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) held in Pullman Hotel, Kuching, Sarawak. My speech was entitled “The Political Future of Haze and Peatlands in Southeast Asia”. The abstract is reproduced below:

The Southeast Asian nations, especially Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, have been suffering from almost annual episodes of haze pollution for decades now. Smoke from peat and forest fires, mostly in Indonesia, travel across boundaries, resulting in transboundary haze. Haze is not only a physical problem linked to fire, but also a complex political one. Many fires have been traced to land clearance activities of agribusiness concessionaries in Indonesia, who are not only local but often also Malaysian and Singaporean. Demand for land have encouraged the opening up of ecologically-important and fire-prone peatlands, which are largely protected by law but often licensed out to politically well-connected businesses. Efforts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to encourage cooperation to mitigate haze have been unsuccessful due to national interests and weak institutions. Is the future of Southeast Asia destined to be hazy? This talk will focus on recent developments to consider if the combined physical and political complexities of this transboundary problem can ever be reconciled.



Article Review – The Emergence of an Export Cluster: Traders and Palm Oil in Early Twentieth-century Southeast Asia by Valeria Giacomin

I was recently invited by the NEP-HIS (New Economic Papers on Business, Economic and Financial History) blog to write a review for the above article, freely available at Enterprise and Society, Volume 19, Issue 2, June 2018, pp. 272-308. The review is accessible here.

CLAS International Workshop on Environmental Governance in the Palm Oil Sector , 5-6 June 2018

I am leading a research project on Environmental Governance at the Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS), University of Malaya.

As part of this project, and together with our partners SUSTAINPEAT at the University of Leicester, we organised a Workshop to compare Environmental Governance in the Palm Oil Sector  in the regions of Latin America and Southeast Asia. From the 5th-6th of June, scholars working on Brazil, Mexico, Honduras, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines gathered at the University of Malaya to share their draft papers. Local experts were also in attendance to act as paper discussants.

I  led the Malaysia country paper, entitled “State Autonomy and Peatland (Mis)Governance in Sarawak, Malaysia s Final Frontier for Oil Palm”. Ms Yasmin Rasyid, founder and president of EcoKnights, kindly acted as the discussant for the paper. Other contributors included Prof. Daniel Sombra (Brazil), Dr Inrid Fromm (Honduras), Dr Erin Pischke (Mexico), prof. Gusti Z. Anshari and Dr Patrick O’Reilly (Indonesia), and Prof. Michael Pido (Philippines).

We concluded the workshop with a focus group round-robin style exercise where the presenters and discussants paired up to come up with keywords that were raised during the two days. This was later grouped into major themes (see photos), which we hope will serve as the basis for a cohesive collection of papers.

Moving forward, based on these themes, the presenters agreed to continue working on the presented papers to be published as a special issue for a relevant journal. We later intend to invite more country paper contributors to further expand the collection into an edited volume, edited by Dr Patrick O’Reilly and myself.

Riau Scoping Study, ARI TECSEA Project

The Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore has been awarded a Singapore Social Science Research Council (SSRC) Grant to carry out a five-year project (2017-2022) on the Transboundary Environmental Commons in Southeast Asia (TECSEA). The project is led by Prof David Taylor from NUS Geography and Prof Jonathan Rigg from ARI. I am fortunate to be included in this project as an external collaborator and lead researcher for Work Package 1 of the project on “Atmosphere: Biomass Burning and the Haze”.

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Rising Voices Panel, AAS Washington, D.C. 2018

The Association for Asian Studies annual conference this year was held in Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, D.C. from 22 to 25 March 2018. It was my first time attending this grand conference, and I was fortunate to be selected to receive a travel grant from the Southeast Asia Council (SEAC) to take part in a Rising Voices in Southeast Asian Studies Panel on Environmental Issues and Human Health in the region. The panel was entitled “Airs, Waters, Places and the Peoples Who Use and Abuse All of Them in Southeast Asia” chaired by Professor Michele Thompson of Southern Connecticut State University.

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ASEAN Focus 1/2018 Opinion Piece: EU Palm Oil Ban

Below is the full text of an opinion piece/commentary I recently wrote for Vol. 1 2018 of ASEAN Focus, a publication of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore. You can view the entire publication here.

EU’s Anti-Palm Oil Measures Do Not Help the Environment

Southeast Asia is the world’s top palm oil producing region with 89% share of the world’s supply. The sector accounts for 5% to 7% to the gross domestic product (GDP) of Indonesia and Malaysia which contribute 53% and 32% of the global supply respectively. 17% of Indonesia’s and 13% of Malaysia’s of palm oil exports are shipped to the European Union (EU), which is the world’s biggest palm oil importer, taking 21% of the global palm oil imports. According to the law of supply and demand, the two regions should be locked in a harmonious relationship of mutual dependency.

However, recent developments at the European Parliament have pitted the two regions against each other. Early this year, the European Parliament passed two resolutions to phase out palm oil from the EU biofuels programme by 2020, and impose a single certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) scheme for all palm oil entering the EU after 2020. These resolutions are now set to go through the European Council and European Commission for approval. Indonesia and Malaysia are trying desperately to prevent this from happening by lobbying individual EU countries and sending joint diplomatic missions to the EU. Malaysia has also threatened to raise this matter at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

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Keynote at the Australian Network Leader’s Summit, 13 Jan 2018

My time studying in Sydney, Australia was an important formative period for me, and I enjoy mentoring and advising other young people who are on the same path. This year, I was once again invited to share my experiences with a group of young Malaysian leaders from the Malaysian Students’ Council of Australia (MASCA) at the Australian Network Leader’s Summit 2018, held in KDU University College, Utropolis Glenmarie Campus.


As a Keynote Speaker, I was tasked to speak on the topic of “What Happens After Graduation”. I tried to provide the attendees with insights on two important aspects of this question: how to choose between continuing postgraduate studies or entering the workforce, and how to use the skills obtained through involvement in activities like MASCA in the “real world”. The session ended with a lively discussion session moderated by Ms Suwarna Ramanathan.