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Sustainably expanding high-yielding tropical crops to prevent deforestation with perverse market outcomes

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  • Full or part time
    Dr D Edwards
    Dr J Hardy
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

The Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures focuses on advancing the science of sustainability and connecting it with the policy debate around how humans can live in a more sustainable way.

Rainforest conversion to farmland is a major driver of both the global extinction crisis and climate change, with yield increases via technological advances often billed as being the best way of halting farm expansion into tropical wilderness. However, the emergence of high-yielding crops in the tropics could perversely increase the rate of tropical deforestation by transferring food production from temperate to tropical regions. This is because high-yielding tropical crops could create a toxic mix of falling market prices making them a more attractive proposition to commodity purchasers, but increasing farm profits because of much higher yield per hectare.

This project has two key objectives: 1) to determine how new high-yielding crops will affect the distribution of prices in relevant industries and how this impacts on the incentives of producers, consumers and governments who will be responding to those price changes; and 2) to identify the magnitude of biodiversity and carbon conservation costs from unintended consequences when new agricultural technology is adopted without regulation and under a range of policy levers to regulate the market. We seek applicants with interests in environmental or agricultural economics and tropical conservation science, with enthusiasm for computer-based research and some fieldwork.

There is growing concern about the ability of global food supply to support the increasing global population without dramatic further losses of rainforest, and an exacerbation of the extinction and climate change crises. Technological development is seen by many as central to meeting rising global food demand with the focus typically on enhancement of crop yields. However, the emergence of high-yielding crops in the tropics could perversely increase the rate of tropical deforestation by transferring food production from temperate to tropical regions (Carrasco et al., Edwards 2014 Science 346:38-40;

This project will combine the application of economic theory with spatially explicit model projections of crop expansion and their impacts on carbon and biodiversity:

Objective 1. Develop an economic model to reveal how the responses of agents to the new agricultural technology (i.e. high-yielding crops) will impact the scale and distribution of production, and in particular, land-use and deforestation. By identifying the circumstances under which perverse land use outcomes arise and understanding the role of the incentive system of agents in yielding these outcomes, we can begin to design regulatory mechanisms that offer countervailing incentives (regulatory mechanisms that do not take account of the incentive system generally fail or have deleterious consequences).

Objective 2. Use spatial projections to predict the most likely locations across the tropics for expansion of rapidly emerging crops (oil palm, soy, cocao, & sugar cane) under scenarios of yield improvements, and thus their impacts on carbon and biodiversity. We will modify profitability, demand, and thus rate of cropland expansion and conservation losses under a range of market regulation scenarios, including no regulation, a biofuel tax, and no access to western markets for deforestation crop.

In addition to these two main objectives, there is the potential for candidates to explore other avenues related to the impacts of high-yielding crops and agricultural sustainability on markets, deforestation, carbon stocks and biodiversity. We would welcome a fieldwork component to this additional research.

For enquiries or additional information, please contact Dr David Edwards [Email Address Removed] ( or Jolian McHardy [Email Address Removed] (

We are recruiting Scholars who will combine outstanding intellect with a strong commitment to public engagement, leadership and action.
These ambitious individuals will complete interdisciplinary PhD research projects to help solve the challenges of sustainability. They will be supported by the Centre through a unique training programme, designed to equip them with the skills to become policy advocates and leaders in sustainability matters.

You must select "Apply Online" to make an application

Please note: in online application process please select ’standard PhD’ not DTC option

Keywords: Tropical agriculture, environmental economics, rainforest biodiversity, agricultural policy, sustainability, pricing strategy

For enquiries or additional information, please contact David Edwards [Email Address Removed] and Jolian McHardy [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

Candidates need a first class (or equivalent) undergraduate degree and/or a Masters degree in Biology-, Economics-, or Mathematics-related subjects. Candidates will demonstrate strong skills in independent research, with modelling skills desirable. This four year studentship will be fully funded at Home/EU or international rates. RTSG will also be made available at standard rate of £2,563 per annum, with a one-off allowance of £1,000 for a computer in the first year. Students will receive an annual stipend of £16,913 in 2015/16, rising with inflation thereafter. Applications should be received and complete by 28 February 2015.

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