Characterisation and visualisation of telecouplings in Large Scale Land Acquisitions in Southeast Asia

PhD fellow: Gabi Sonderegger

University of Bern

About me

I have a multi-disciplinary background in Geography, Sustainable Development and International Development studies. After completing my MSc degree in Sustainable Development at Utrecht University, I have worked for different research institutes (Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, University of Antwerp) and technical advisors of government agencies (Netherlands Commission for Environmental Impact Assessment, German Corporation for International Cooperation).

I am passionate about understanding the complex interactions between human societies and their natural environment across the world.  This has led me to conduct research and advisory work in many different countries (e.g. Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ghana, Georgia and Indonesia). On several occasions, I worked in areas affected by large-scale land acquisition processes, such as pulp and paper plantations, hydropower development or mineral extraction. I have then experienced at first hand the immense environmental and socio-economics implications that such developments can have and took note of the very complex dynamics that drive and enfold around them. I am now very eager to devote the coming years of this PhD to learn to better understand the full implications of such transnational land deals, particularly their (often neglected) spill-over effects in neighbouring and distant land systems.

I am particularly excited about the interdisciplinary setting of the COUPLED programme and the possibilities to work in partnership with academic, public and private institutions. My previous work experiences have taught me that effective visualization tools can play an important role in improving and facilitating communication, mutual learning and joint visioning in such multi-stakeholder collaborations. With my research, I aim thus not only contribute to a better understanding of spill-over dynamics of large-scale land acquisitions, but also to identify and develop visualization techniques that can help to effectively communicate the resulting knowledge to key decision-makers.



Kolhoff, A. J., Runhaar, H. A. C., Gugushvili, T., Sonderegger, G., Van der Leest, B., & Driessen Driessen, P. P. J. (2016). The influence of actor capacities on EIA system performance in low and middle income countries -Cases from Georgia and Ghana. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 57.




My research aims to contribute to a better understanding of spill-over dynamics of large-scale land acquisitions, as well as to provide insights on how such complex dynamics can be best understood and communicated through (data) visualisation techniques.


In a globalized world, flows, feedbacks and spill-overs of material, goods and services, and respective drivers and impacts between local and distant land systems are the norm and not the exception. In some domains, such as trade-flows and supply chains, some aspects of interconnectivity of places can already be captured and visualized (e.g. The enormous increase of Large Scale Land Acquisitions (LSLA) in the last decade, mainly targeted at export oriented commodities (e.g. Oil Palm, rubber) lead to large changes in land system especially in the global South. While there is an increasing understanding of local impacts of such LSLA, there is a lack of approaches to capture, characterize and especially visualizing spill-overs and feedbacks with neighbouring or distant places and systems (e.g. land use displacement effects of LSLAs to neighbouring or distant places).

On this backdrop this PhD research aims at developing a system to capture, characterize and visualize feedbacks and spill-overs using LSLA cases in mainland Southeast Asia, likely Myanmar and/or Laos. The research will largely be based on various already available large data sets from different sources, but some fieldwork is envisaged. This research will lead to:

  • Creation of knowledge of spill-overs and feedbacks in large scale land acquisitions (LSLA)
  • Development of a framework and indicator set to capture and characterize spill-over and feedbacks related to LSLAs
  • A (online) tool to visualize the interconnected flows and impacts of local and distant system in relation to LSLA

Principal Supervisor:  Andreas Heinimann (University of Bern, Centre for Development and Environment)


Gabi Sonderegger
Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), University of Bern
Mittelstrasse 43, 3012 Bern, Switzerland