What the Official Websites Say on Soy and Palm Oil

April 10th 2015 - 12:05
Palm oil and soy can be considered as two of the most important agricultural commodities in the global food system. The global annual production is ever increasing, to serve a growing world population that is now eating more meat and processed food. This has and will likely continue to have significant impacts on the environment, our ecosystems, our health, societies and human rights as a whole.

This analysis was requested by the Ministry of Economic Affairs of the Netherlands for developing policy strategies to further expand the influence of sustainability schemes – and here in particular, for the production of palm oil and soy. Insight into the discourse by the government of these countries and their interest in the Dutch efforts towards sustainable production can be useful to determine which strategies would be effective. As such, this study aims to identify which are the issues and priorities governmental publications focus on in their discourse on the production, trade and consumption of soy and palm oil. We studied all webpages of governmental websites (webpages published from 2007 till 2014) for Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Our study brings some evidence of a gap between ‘the walk and the talk’, and of the possible bias in interpreting a country’s position and priorities. We also provide a number of recommendations to help in addressing this broad range of concerns when communicating and working with these countries. This may complement and improve the way communication is built between the Netherlands and these countries, in order to foster a better understanding, allow for a more efficient collaboration, and lead to fruitful benefits.

This study is also an attempt to explore the usefulness of new data sources and data analysis tools. Using a programming language, HCSS set out to construct a new database consisting of all retrievable text–based webpages from the Ministries of five countries that play a key role in relevance to the research topic. We then applied a number of textmining tools to this new dataset, in order to automatically identify the main topics to have emerged from these websites as well as a number of associations with some topics of interest.

Send us an email if you wish to request access to our Technical Appendix, which includes a more detailed version of our entire research process, methodologies and findings, as well as two Annexes. The first provides data on global trade to inform the introduction of the report on soy and palm oil. The second assesses the extent to which each country includes the Netherlands’ Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) in the official discourse.

Authors and Contributors: HCSS, Eline Chivot, Antoine Carnet, Francesco Corsini, Freija van Duijne, Nicolas Fassetta, Andrea Fassina, Laurin Hainy, Wan–Chun Hsu, Denis Kulicek, Mayuri Mukherjee, Caroline Saweho, João Almeida Silveira, Stephan de Spiegeleire.
In collaboration with the Agricultural Councils at the Dutch embassies of Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Stephan De Spiegeleire is senior scientist at HCSS. He has Master’s degrees from the Graduate Institute in Geneva and Columbia University in New York, as well as a C.Phil. degree in Political Science from UCLA. He worked for the RAND Corporation for nearly ten years, interrupted by stints at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik and the WEU’s Institute for Security Studies. Mr. De Spiegeleire started out as a Soviet specialist, but has since branched out into several fields of international security and defense policy.