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Project lead for research and impact:

Jake Backus, Managing Director Empathy Sustainability

Initiative lead, agroecologist and community SME: 

I. Madé Setiawan, Udayana University

Head of research

Logan Hamilton, DPhil Oxford University

Project advisor:

Chris Wille, co-founder Rainforest Alliance

Student project supervisors:

Dr Matt Ives, Systems Modeller, Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University

Dr Julian Cottee, Reseach & Insights Programme Manager, Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, Said Business School, Oxford Univeristy

Academic support:

Oxford University, Environmental Change Institute

MBA student researchers: 

Saïd Business School, Oxford University

Carbon & social valuation:


Assisted natural forest regeneration
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Have restored up to 2M Ha of degraded rainforest with commensurate sustainable income streams for up to 5M local and indigenous people via the catalyst of high value sustainable forest vanilla farming and forest polyculture.


Lead the restoration of significant areas of degraded forest in Indonesia through supporting local and indigenous people with vanilla farming and ecology expertise, proving its effectiveness, researching the impact and consequences, and driving sustainable income streams through engagement with the principle global vanilla purchasers and leading brands.



  • Demonstrate that growing vanilla is a better long term economic model for local people than the depletion of virgin forest for palm oil production and the one-off short-term benefits from mining and logging.

  • Get scientific and corroborated proof that our model for forest vanilla farming both yields high quality, healthy and sustainably grown vanilla, is restorative for the forest, a benefit to local farmers and does not have significant unintended consequences.

  • Grow natural vanilla sales volumes from 1% of the market to 5% (+4%)

  • Reduce degraded forest in Indonesia from 6-11M Ha by -2M Ha.

  • Create a model for restorative landscapes and supply chain management.

  • Shorten the supply chain so that farmers receive more of the value and market price shock impact is reduced.


Key questions to answer:

  1. Economic modelling of market absorption implications of growing the share of market of real vanilla being 1% of the vanilla market to 5%.  What will be the likely impact on market prices, price volatility, uptake of real vanilla, market growth, attitude of the market to a significant new market source versus current dominance of Madagascar, and uptake by key brands and commodity buyers to different pricing levels etc? 

  2. Vanilla contribution to forest regeneration such as the speed of site forest growth and the adjacent areas. Areal, surface soil and subsoil.  Zoology or plant science to quantify this?

  3. How do forest community-based agroecology initiatives impact forest restoration, regeneration, and conservation?  And to what extent.

  4. How does forest concession restoration, conservation and regeneration impact forest community livelihood?  And to what extent.

  5. Before / after impacts  


The plan:

Our next step is to grow vanilla across 500 Ha of land in Borneo through engagement with local people for which £100K has been raised.  The impacts of this will then be measured.

We welcome discussion with potential project sponsors and interested parties -please get in touch.

Next steps

1.      We are looking for research students wishing to:

a.      Do desk research on economics and also around degraded forest in Indonesia relevant to this project

b.     Visit Borneo to do base level social, environmental, ecological, biodiversity or related studies in order to prepare the before-after work.  Support for access to this area will be provided.  However, we currently have no funds.


Agroforestry as source of disposable income (family ATM)

Questions: Why do local people have difficulties in readopting their agroforestry system?

Government conventional agroforestry design in the offer:

•        Monoculture, only about growing plant based commodities, no regards to soil and landscape condition

•        Economically unattractive commodity offered

•        Environmentally destructive

•        Intensive caring and high cost 

•        Post-harvest market access problem


Indigenous agroforestry design:

•        Polyculture with high-value commodities to ensure consistent flow of income, i.e. rattan, timber

•        Agroforestry (locally known ‘gardening in the forest’) is not merely plants cultivation in the forest

•        Areal and landscape sensitive (peat, mineral soil, soil depression)

•        Low maintenance (by nature) and continuous annual harvest

•        Harvest include cultivated crops, timber, NTFP, inward forest migrating fish, honey, games, etc.



Indigenously inspired comprehensive agroforestry/ecology design (mudah, murah, aman, produktif/ accessible, affordable, safe, productive)

a.      Minimum areal and soil amendment

  • Utilization of secondary and primary forest vegetation in alley cropping cultivation system

  • Original landscape orientation in cultivation

  • Areal hydrology sensitive

  • Selection of indigenous plants to retain water table and salt intrusion

  • Forest fire proof

  • Financially viable

  • High-value commodities in polyculture system

  • Beje aquaculture

  • Paliduculture (Melaleuca C./galam and other peat swam tree based apiary, keystone tree species, sago, nypa)


b.   Mutually contributing to forest regeneration and health, and community economy

•        Keystone tree species for frugivore, insectivore and ichthochory

•        Areal fire prevention

•        Reducing people’s frequency forest visit 

•        Productive agroecology based on soil and water phytoremediation in formerly open cast community’s gold mine areas  


Project Lead:  Jake Backus, Managing Director Empathy Sustainability, [email protected]   +44 7747006544   Oxford, England

Agroecologist and community SME:  Madé Setiawan  [email protected]  


Input, advice, suggestions and feedback welcome.  Please send to Jake Backus.

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