Infectious Disease Emergence and Economics of Altered Landscapes (IDEEAL)


The IDEEAL project, lead by EcoHealth Alliance and funded by USAID, looks at the tradeoffs between human-environmental health and economic growth from palm oil production.

Every time a hectare of land is allocated for palm oil production there are both benefits and costs. Palm oil production can increase people’s quality of life through the creation of more jobs and infrastructure, the generation of wealth and economic growth, and more tax revenues for public spending.

However, the development of that same hectare of land also generates social costs from a reduction in ecosystem services (e.g. food, disease regulation, carbon storage, biodiversity, water retention) and an increase in negative externalities (e.g. soil erosion and water pollution. Land use change is the leading cause of infectious disease emergence, which can generate costs in the billions of dollars.

Factors Driving Disease Emergence

Loh et al. 2015

Why an economic model?

  • Making the decision to develop or conserve each hectare of land requires an understanding of the tradeoffs being made through that decision.
  • An economic model allows us to quantitatively assess these trade-offs to inform policy making and land use planning. It can provide answers to the following questions:
    • How much and at what rate should land be cleared for development?
    • What land should be conserved?
    • Where can land be developed to minimize health impacts while maximizing economic benefits?
    • How does much does considering the value of ecosystems services, especially that of disease regulation, change the optimal level of developemnt?

What does this app do?

This app calculates the expected damages to society from disease outbreaks and loss of ecosystem services that would occur if the ecosystem were converted. It outputs the socially optimal amount of land to be developed for palm oil and compares this result to the private optimum.

Loh et al. 2015

IDEEAL Project Goals

  1. Build models of land-use change and economics of disease emergence that can be used by local and regional decision-makers.

  2. Describe the relationship between disease emergence, land-use change, human behavior, and quantify an ecosystem's disease-regulating value.

  3. Build toolkits and establish a center of excellence to develop and promote best practices, research, and reduced-impact land-use guidance.

  4. Engage private companies and educate and empower civil society stakeholders to work together for a healthy and sustainable future.

Read more at EcoHealth Alliance IDEEAL Project Website

How to Use this App

  • This app allows you to explore the effect of palm oil production on human-environmental health and economic growth.

  • It is recommended for you to start with the Overview page, which allows you to understand the project context. Next, we recommend playing around with the key variable inputs on the Model Key Inputs and Results tab to help build intuition about how changes in these values affect the optimal land conversion rate.

  • If you are interested, there are more detailed variables that can be used as inputs for the model, which can be explored under the Model Input Variables tab. These include detailed descriptions of ecosystem services, types of land holders, and input costs. Description of these variables and links to parameter estimates can be found under the Variable Appendix tab.

  • Also included are example scenarios that can be used as baseline examples from which to customize model inputs. These scenarios include models and parameter values for Sabah, Malaysia and the country of Thailand. They provide a guideline for how this app can be used.

The EcoHealth team working with stakeholders during a trianing in Sabah, Malaysia

Model Results

Key Variables

  • On this tab, you fill be able to set the values for key variables (the most basic, important variables for the model) and view the results. To understand both the results and variable selection process, we recommend reading through the scenarios we have provided in the Scenarios tab. If you would like to use the more detailed variable selection, you can do so in the Detailed Variable Control tab.

  • The graph below compares the socially and privately optimal amount of land conversion in the target site over the next 75 years. The private optimum only accounts for the private-market costs and benefits of producing and selling palm oil products. The social optimum considers costs that are not fully reflected in the market for palm oil, such as lost ecosystem services and diseases caused by land use change. The social optimum is a more complete reflection of the true costs and benefits of land conversion, but it is not always used in land use planning. This tool helps policy-makers understand the negative externalities of land conversion to empower more informed decision-making.

The crude palm oil yield is the amount of palm oil in metric tons produced from one hectare of land (default: FAOSTAT(2014) for Malaysia. It is approximately 20% of FFB)

Increasing the value of ecosystem services will reduce the land conversion for the social optimal

Key Results: Private vs Social Optimum