TFT partners with the SAE at ETH Zurich

New partnership between TFT-Rurality and the Sustainable Agroecosystems Group based in Zurich, Switzerland.

The Sustainable Agroecosystems Group is an international multidisciplinary group committed to playing a role in bringing healthy food from fields to tables around the world for generations to come.  SAE focuses on the farm and decadal scale, integrating experimental work, because it is at these scales that decisions are being made. In August 2016, TFT has launched a partnership with ETHZ for a specific case study in Malaysia.

ETH Zurich, the leading technical institute in Switzerland

ETH Zurich is the leading technical institute in Switzerland and lies in the heart of Europe. It is pioneering solutions to the global challenges of today and tomorrow. It has more than 19,000 students from over 120 different countries.


Case study in Sabah : Assessing the resilience of the palm oil value chain

Impacts from climate change, globalisation and changing food habits increasingly put food systems under pressure to function at all times. The concept of resilience allows to understand how value chains (sub-elements of food systems) perform in case a shock occurs. For instance, El Niño phenomenon 2015/16, causing drought conditions in Sabah, negatively affected palm oil production. Such an event likely disrupts the proper functioning of the palm oil value chain in Sabah and may lead to adverse outcomes.


Collecting the field data

Rurality aims to enhance the farmers resilience. During the Rural Dynamics Diagnostic conducted by Rurality, the field team connects with the various actors of the palm oil value chain. ETHZ researchers will build on these existing relationships to collect data through questionnaires among key stakeholders of the various processes (input suppliers, farmers, millers, …) as well as through interviews with experts (researchers, government officials, etc.). At the end of the research work, a workshop will gather key stakeholders to discuss potential interventions and innovative practices to improve the resilience of the palm oil value chain in Sabah.

Main objectives

  1. To conduct a resilience assessment among palm oil value chain stakeholders (input suppliers, farmers, millers, …)
  2. To conduct a stakeholder workshop with actors from the palm oil value chain in Sabah
  3. To build capacity with TFT field team on  assessing Resilience

First workshop on resilience


Staff from TFT Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia gathered in Kuala Lumpur Oct. 12, 2016, for a workshop on resilience in the palm oil value chain. The workshop was run by Dr. Jörin Jonas and Olivia Pfister from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich).

The initial sessions started out with a briefing about resilience in the context of food systems. It was also explained how sustainability is inextricably linked to the ability to withstand socio-ecological pressures, and a real life example of a resilience study in Ethiopia was presented.


Following this, participants were split into groups and took part in an interactive exercise within the context of the palm oil value chain in Sabah. The first of these exercises involved identifying key stakeholders relevant to the production of palm oil. Next, participants were asked to categorize the various stakeholders based on their interest and power on the palm oil supply chain, and examine the relationship and influence each stakeholder had on others in the system. The last exercise involved examining the possible advantages and disadvantages each stakeholder would encounter when faced with El Nino, La Nina and under normal weather.


The day ended with the different groups presenting their discussions. This led to sharing of queries and feedback, thereby resulting in a collaborative learning experience for both TFT and ETHZ. Fieldwork for the research project in Sabah is slated to complete in November 2016, after which a stakeholder workshop will be held in Sandakan.

Rudro and Prasad

Dr. Jonas Jörin from the ETHZ
Dr. Jonas Jörin from the ETHZ

This training provided the participants with an opportunity to think out of the box through adopting a systemic and holistic perspective on the palm oil value chain. Thinking beyond individual value chain processes (e.g. smallholder production), participants learned about interconnections between different processes and actors of the palm oil value chain in Sabah.