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OPAL in Switzerland


In Switzerland, the OPAL team is responsible for overall project coordination, providing training and oversight on Companion Modelling approaches, and contributing research on biodiversity and landscape pattern, hydrological services and soil processes. Their role is also to promote outreach and project impact.


The coordinating office of the OPAL project is based at ETH Zürich under the leadership of Jaboury Ghazoul and Claude Garcia. Also, in Zürich are Anne Dray, our Companion Modelling expert, John Garcia, our expert on biodiversity modelling, and Nur Hasanah, a PhD student looking at ecosystem services links to palm oil development in Kutai Kartanegara, Indonesia. Hydrological modelling work is done by Gabriele Manoli under the leadership of Simone Fatichi. Our colleagues from EPF Lausanne, Thomas Guillaume and Juan Carlos Quezeda Rivera, are undertaking soil and nutrient cycling research, under the leadership of Alexandre Buttler.

Current activities

In January 2018, our team supported development of the OPAL game CoPalCol in Colombia. The game is intended for use in the field, to address issues such as land-use change in Colombia.

Professor Jaboury Ghazoul, OPAL project leader, has been recently invited to an expert talk in Bern. This was organized in the context of negotiations between Switzerland and Indonesia about a free trade agreement that would include palm oil. Jaboury made the point that the oil palm issue is more complex than meets the eyes. He also stressed that the ban on palm oil for biodiesel, decided by the EU Parliament, reduces Europe’s leverage in terms of negotiating improved standards with Indonesia, and this is not very good.

Following an article in the NZZ am Sonntag, we were contacted by several stakeholders. One of them is Migros, a large retailer shop in Switzerland, with whom we have now regular contact. Subsequently, a TV documentary by NZZ about fat has been shown on Swiss TV, including interview on palm oil with our very own Jaboury Ghazoul.

In June 2018, two OPAL games were played during the public events of the Latsis Symposium 2018 – ‘Scaling-up Forest Restoration’: the German version for school children of the CoPalCam game and ComMoDo, the game developed by ETH Zürich PhD student, Nur Hasanah. The Ambassador of Indonesia in Switzerland attended the session of the Indonesian ComMoDo game and played the role of a palm oil producer. The Embassy subsequently published a press release on the event, which was picked up by several news agencies in Indonesia. An overview can be seen on this page.

A blog entitled ‘Wearing Borneo’s farmers shoes through role-playing game’ was written by facilitators of the game and published on the ETH Ambassador Blog.

The ETH Hydro team is tailoring an existing eco-hydrological model (T&C) for application in tropical landscapes. The model has been employed to understand changes in carbon and water fluxes after tropical forest conversion to oil palm, as well as implications for oil palm yield, local water availability and impact on climate. In particular, simulation results from seven sites in Indonesia have revealed that the establishment of young oil palm plantations decreases evapotranspiration, increasing surface temperature, while intensively managed mature plantations can transpire more water than the forest they have replaced. The team is now investigating the impact of oil palm expansion on other land uses (i.e. grasslands, pastures and savannas).​​


Companion Modelling and outreach activities

Using the Companion Modelling approach, we worked with WWF Cameroon to develop a palm oil supply chain role playing game (CoPalCam). This was tested with experts, and then validated with local smallholder producers, even being played at ministerial level.

The CoPalCam game –  describing the smallholder supply chain – was used for a companion modelling demonstration at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, with participants from Utrecht University, the University of Amsterdam, Wageningen University and WWF Netherlands.

The same game was also used twice to engage students of the Lycée Français in Zürich, and proved to be a very effective tool for promoting education and awareness of oil palm issues in school settings.

In 2017, ETH Zürich master’s student Manuel Stamm adapted the CoPalCam game to be played in Swiss secondary schools, in and around Zürich. For this, in June 2019 he won third place in the Deutscher Planspielpreis.

In November 2015, we organized a public event on oil palm. A panel of four experts, from Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), WWF Indonesia, The Forest Trust (TFT) and Migros, responded to questions from a large public audience.

In collaboration with the Word Food Systems Centre, Anne Dray initiated a master’s project, together with the catering department of ETH Zürich, to raise awareness of the sustainability of oil palm. Nora Zoller has now completed her master’s thesis on ‘how different stakeholders perceive palm oil in food and its impact on the environment’. The full thesis is available below or under Outputs.

In December 2016, we started engaging with stakeholders in Switzerland (e.g. NGOs in conservation and sustainability, industry, academia) by inviting them to a workshop where they played a game focused on the oil palm supply chain in Cameroon (CoPalCam). See more details here. A follow-up workshop is planned in 2017. Our objective with these workshops was to further advance the science and policy dialogue, engaging private and public institutions in Switzerland on key issues surrounding oil palm. We expect this to contribute to the debates that are currently ongoing in existing platforms.

We organized a ComMod workshop in Indonesia in September 2016 to train local partners on the method, and are now supporting them to create a game.

From June to August 2016, the EPFL team was on a field campaign in Colombia. The goal of this field trip was to meet with partners, select research sites and sample them. The samples have now come back to Switzerland and are being analyzed.

The Luc Hoffmann Institute (LHI) was successful in bringing on board WWF Indonesia as an official partner to the project. A research fellow is being hired to work on the project.


The OPAL Project is funded by:
Project Consortium:

Oil Palm Adaptive Landscapes (OPAL)
c/o Prof. Jaboury Ghazoul
Chair of Ecosystem Management
Department of Environmental System Sciences
ETH Zurich
Universitätstrasse 16
8092 Zürich

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