New Inref programme aims at cleaning up production processes
Palm oil from Malaysia and Thailand is processed and transported worldwide. Ultimately it might become a component of Dutch margarine, or washing powder, to name just a couple of end products. This is just one example of the kind of agro-production which takes place in Asia, and which increasingly has to comply with international environmental standards. Even small and medium-size enterprises have to do so, since they may deliver to bigger companies exporting overseas.
Globalisation of the economy has led to increased pressure to make production more environmentally friendly. The Asian Free Trade Area which is being established in the region will also demand stricter production regulations. As foreign companies increase their purchases, they also want to know more about where the product comes from and how it was made. Given the current industrialisation trends, global environmental problems will to a great extent be determined by industrialisation in Southeast Asia and the Far East.
This is the background to why it is becoming important for both large as well as small and medium-size companies in Asia to develop clean production and processing technologies. Governments are also eager to learn how to stimulate more environmentally sound management. The new four-year research programme, coordinated by the Environmental Sociology and Policy Group at Wageningen University, will study both the technical and the management sides of the issue. It has received 1.8 million guilders from the Wageningen Inref programme, which finances a total of five development oriented research programmes.
The 'Agro-industrial transformation towards sustainability' project so far has attracted four MSc students and will also employ five PhD students. All are from universities in Malaysia and Thailand that are participating in the project together with a research institute in Bangkok and universities in New York and California. On the Wageningen side both technical research groups such as Environmental Technology and social and economic research groups are involved.
Professor Tuur Mol of the Environmental Sociology and Policy Group is coordinator of the project. He has carried out research on agro-industrial pollution in Vietnam and China. However, the aim of this research is broader than just delivering technologies or facilitating policy making. It also wants to build up an Environmental Research Network in Asia between universities and research institutes. This will facilitate comparison between countries such as Malaysia and Vietnam, the former being an investor in the region the latter a receiver.