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Asia-Pacific geography

Investigating the impact of changing global conditions
In close cooperation with our international partners, we apply geographical concepts and intensive fieldwork methods to understand and address a range of important issues affecting the Asia-Pacific region.

Our aims

We aim to investigate natural resource management across a number of regions within the Asia-Pacific area. We have run projects in the Mekong region, agri-food geographies, agricultural liberalisation in India, development and migration in South Pacific island-states.

Our regional expertise

University academics: Prof Bill PritchardA/Prof Jeffrey Neilson

External collaborators/industry partners: Tata Institute of Social Science

Geographers at Sydney maintain diverse connections with a broad range of topics in India. Long-standing interests in rural development, food security and plantation crop landscapes are complemented by extensive engagement with Indian institutions across issues including urban change, migration and public policy. The University of Sydney has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, which has been a key partner for much of this work.

Recent research projects and initiatives

  • November 2019 University of Sydney-Tata Institute of Social Sciences research agreement on Human Security and the Anthropocene
  • December 2016 to December 2018, Inclusive reform? Evidence-based assessment of the changing landscape of India’s social safety nets”, International Program Development Fund
  • January 2015 to December 2018 Farmers of the future: The challenges of feminised agriculture in India, Australian Research Council Discovery Project
  • January 2010 to January 2015 Institutions for Food Security: Global Insights from Rural India, Australian Research Council Discovery Project

Recent postgraduate research students:

  • Mark Vicol (PhD)
  • Chetan Choithani (PhD)


University academics: A/Prof Jeffrey NeilsonProf Bill PritchardDr Sophie Webber

External collaborators/industry partners: The University of Indonesia, SSEAC

Geographers at Sydney maintain multiple, in-depth engagements across a broad range of topics in Indonesia. These include agrarian change, land reform, climate policy, food security, economic development, cultural histories, the coffee industry, and contested urban development. Many researchers in the School are Indonesian language speakers and provide media commentary on recent political and social developments In Indonesia. The school coordinates an undergraduate Geography Immersion Program in partnership with the University of Indonesia, which provides an enriching 8-month cultural experience and intensive language training that prepares students for subsequent Indonesia-based research at both the Honours and Postgraduate level.

Recent research projects

  • December 2014 to December 2019, Evaluating smallholder livelihoods and sustainability in Indonesian coffee and cocoa value chains, (ACIAR)
  • June 2015 to December 2018, Evaluation of the Early Impacts of Sustainability Standards on Smallholder Coffee Farming Households in Lampung and South Sumatra, Indonesia; (ISEAL Alliance)
  • January 2016 to December 2018, Agricultural land distribution in Indonesia: fragmentation, aggregation and agrarian change (SSEAC Cluster Grant)
  • July 2018 to December 2019, Smart city policy and practice in Jakarta, Indonesia (SSEAC Cluster Grant)

Recent postgraduate research students

  • Joshua Bray (PhD), Sustainability Programs in the Indonesian Coffee Sector
  • Albert Hasadungan (PhD), Political ecology of palm oil development: Case study in Kapuas Hulu, West Kalimantan

University academics: Dr Robert FisherA/Prof Dan PennyDr Josephine Gillespie, Dr Rebecca Cross

External collaborators/industry partners: Sydney Southeast Asia Centre (SSEAC)* 

Research interests in this region are diverse and extensive, and include studies of natural resource management and environmental histories of the region.  Using a range of empirical approaches, we explore environmental change and governance across mainland Mekong countries.  Our interests range from determining past climate change through paleo-environmental research, to protected area management from forests to wetlands and marine protected areas, to governance of the Mekong as a transboundary river system. The Mekong Research Group, previously the Australian Mekong Resource Centre, ran for 20 years at the University of Sydney from 1997 to 2017, and constituted an important node for research in natural resource management right across mainland Southeast Asia. Ongoing work in geography is closely associated with the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre.

Recent postgraduate research students

  • Ming Li Yong (PhD), Producing scales of resistance: Transboundary community-based responses and resistance to mainstream Lower Mekong Basin hydropower dams
  • Ngoc Pham (PhD): Driving forces of Environmental Behaviour Changes of Cu Lao Cham Island Community in Hoi An, Vietnam
  • Allan Thorburn (MPhil): Emergence of trading states on the Mekong River delta of Vietnam.
  • Chieh-Ming Lai (PhD), Urban learning and civic participation in Bangkok’s Arboreal Landscapes

University academics: Prof Bill Pritchard

Recent research has addressed the issues of food security and rural socio-economic change in the context of a rapidly transitioning national context. Until the democratic reforms of 2011, Myanmar was a closed economy and there was very little authoritative data or research on the social, economic and environmental conditions of the country. Current research efforts at the School of Geosciences are generating important original new evidence of how processes of change are altering the livelihoods of the rural population.

Recent research projects

  • January 2015 to December 2018, Nutrition insecurity and livelihood decision-making in rural Myanmar”, Australian Research Council Discovery Grants Scheme
  • January 2017 to December 2019, Fresh fruit value chains to China, Japan External Trade Research Organisation 

Current postgraduate research students

  • Aye San Dar Phyo (PhD) Climate change and rural transformation in Myanmar.

Key Researchers: Professor John ConnellA/Professor Eleanor BruceDr Sophie Webber

Geographical research on South Pacific island-states is a longstanding area of interest within the University of Sydney. Recent work has focused on the nexus of water-energy-food security as an integral part of ensuring climate compatible development. Interdisciplinary collaboration has focused on methods for incorporating sustainable livelihoods within these nexus relationships, and has involved using spatial modelling and remote sensing to assess environmental livelihood security (ELS) in coastal environments of the South Pacific. At the same time, geographers at Sydney are also critically assessing the roll-out of climate change adaptation programming in Pacific Islands, undertaken by international development experts. This research group has made various other contributions to development studies and the analysis of rural-urban and south-north migration flows over the last three decades, and includes research on behalf of multilateral agencies including the UN's Food & Agricultural Organization, and the International Labour Organization.

Current research projects

  • Climate-smart landscapes for promoting sustainability of Pacific Island agricultural systems, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).
  • Using the Environmental Livelihoods Security (ELS) framework for developing climate-smart landscapes; Biggs E, Bruce E, Boruff B; Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR)/Research and Development Programs (R&D Programs).
  • From science to service: Examining the circulation of useful climate information for adaptation in Pacific Island Countries (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Canada)

*Sydney Southeast Asia Centre

The School is a central node within the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre. With more than 200 academics working on and in Southeast Asia, the University of Sydney has one of the highest concentrations of regional expertise in the world. The Sydney Southeast Asia Centre (SSEAC) was established to build on this wide-ranging expertise. Geographers within the school perform key roles in SSEAC, Including the current country coordinators for Indonesia (A/Professor Jeffrey Neilson) and support various in-country field schools organised through SSEAC.