The Oil Palm and Floodplain Forest Project

Designing living landscapes for conservation in Sabah, Borneo


This project was initiated under DICE University of Kent, Living Landscape Alliance, HUTAN, Sabah Wildlife Department, Danau Girang Field Center and partnered with Sabah Forestry Department.

The Lower Kinabatangan in the Malaysian state of Sabah in northern Borneo is renowned for its biodiversity rich tropical forests, and populations of endemic species such as the Bornean orangutan, Bornean gibbon, Bornean elephant and proboscis monkey. Yet, despite its wealth of biodiversity, the Kinabatangan is marked by large-scale land conversion from tropical forest to oil palm. Oil palm is essential to Malaysia’s economic development. However, expansive conversion in the region has significantly affected the forest ecosystem, causing severe fragmentation and patch isolation is jeopardising wildlife populations; as well as threatening ecosystem function and ecosystem services in the region.

This landscape focused project commenced in 2009, aimed at better understanding the current land cover situation (ecologically and economically) in the Lower Kinabatangan region, to then try and help identify where and how to invest conservation efforts for forest connectivity in this threatened landscape. Within the first phase of the project, fine-scale spatial datasets were developed that included species distribution maps for IUCN Red List threatened mammal species, forest type/system information, carbon stock data, oil palm age/productivity and suitability information, to understand the ecological and industrial landscape. Finance modeling was undertaken to understand the variable economic landscape in regards to oil palm agriculture (to define profit potential) and assessed these against alternative pro-conservation/sustainability finance mechanisms such as REDD+ and RSPO. A link to a paper with some of the findings from this project can be accessed from the link below, with other papers forthcoming.

A second phase of this project is now commencing to disseminate the findings from this initial research phase and engage with key actors. Further research is needed to help deepen our understanding of landscape dynamics in this region which we hope will help identify tangible solutions for securing around 25,000 ha of unprotected forest in the region. For more information contact

Abram, N. K., Xofis, P. Tzanopoulus, J., MacMillan, D., Ancrenaz, M., Chung, R., Peter, L., Ong, R., Lackman, I., Goossens, B., Ambu, L., & Knight, A. T. (2014). Synergies for improving oil palm production and forest conservation in floodplain landscapes. PLoS ONE, 9:e95388.

Past funders:

RICS Research Trust

US Fish and Wildlife Service – Great Ape Fund

Arcus Foundation (as part of a larger grant for the Borneo Futures initiative)

Planet Action (in-kind)

Trimble Definiens (in-kind)


View Larger Map