Sarah Milne

Associate Professor; Resources, Environment & Development group
Crawford School of Public Policy

I am interested in the political ecology of natural resource management and environmental interventions, particularly in the context of community-based conservation; resource rights interventions; and emerging market mechanisms for conservation like Payments for Environmental Services (PES) and Reducing Emissions from forest Degradation and Deforestation (REDD). Most of my research is focused on Cambodia, where I have been active as a conservationist, ethnographer and advocate since 2002. In this context, I am particularly interested in state-society relations around struggles over land and forests, including problems of corruption and violence. My current research entails regular fieldwork at the forest frontier, where I investigate how community livelihoods and resource rights are interacting with the emergence of new markets for commodities like timber, land and ‘forest carbon’. In addition, I maintain a research and writing agenda on the politics and practice of transnational biodiversity conservation. This was the subject of my 2010 PhD thesis, which was an ethnography of a high-profile international conservation project in the Cardamom Mountains, Cambodia. I am now writing up this work as an ethnographic monograph, with support from the Wenner-Gren Foundation. See Google Scholar profile.

Research grants and projects

  • Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship, Wenner-Gren Foundation. (2015-2016) Saving nature? The politics and practice of international conservation in Cambodia

  • Collaborator on Australian Research Council Discovery grant: The political ecology of forest carbon – Mainland Southeast Asia’s new commodity frontier? led by Dr Sango Mahanty, The Australian National University (2012-2015)

  • Co-lead with C. Sandbrook (University of Cambridge), T. Sunderland and B. Powell (Centre for International Forestry Research) on DfID-funded grant entitled: The new agrarian change? Exploring the dynamic interplay between food security, commodity production, and land-use in tropical forest landscapes. I am conducting a critical analysis of land interventions that attempt to couple agricultural improvement and conservation in Cambodia and Indonesia, with an emphasis on food security issues for local communities, in collaboration with PhD students. (2013- 2014)

  • Improving governance, policy and institutional arrangements to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation (Project leader Luca Tacconi, funded by ACIAR). I am investigating the opportunity costs and land tenure implications of avoided deforestation for small-holders and communities in Riau and Papua. (2010-2013)

Career highlights

  • 2012-2014: Consultant: International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Cambodia; & Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)
  • 2012-2013: Technical Adviser, Wildlife Conservation Society, Cambodia (four months)
  • 2010-2011: Social Development Director, Conservation International (part time)
  • 2005-2009: PhD candidate, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, U.K
  • 2005-2008: General Sir John Monash Scholar
  • 2002-2005: Community Program Manager, Conservation International, Cambodia
  • 2002-2003: Australian Youth Ambassador for Development (AusAID), Cambodia
  • 2001-2002: Research engineer, Centre for Appropriate Technology, Alice Springs
  • 1997 & 1998: Mechanical engineering work experience in Brazil and Cuba
  • Mahanty, S. and Milne S. 2016 ‘Anatomy of a boom: Cassava as a ‘gateway’ crop in Cambodia’s north eastern borderland. Asia Pacific Viewpoint 57(2), pp.180-193

  • Milne, S., Milne M., Nurfatriani, F., Tacconi, L. 2016 ‘How is global climate policy interpreted on the ground? Insights from the analysis of local discourses about forest management and REDD+ in Indonesia’ Ecology & Society 21(2):6

  • Milne, S. 2015 ‘Cambodia’s unofficial regime of extraction: Illicit logging in the shadow of transnational governance and investment’ Critical Asian Studies 47(2), pp. 200-228

  • Baker, J. and Milne S. 2015 ‘Dirty Money States: Illicit Economies and the State in Southeast Asia’ Critical Asian Studies 47(2), pp. 151-176.

  • Cacho, O., Milne, S., Gonzalez, R., Tacconi, L. 2014 ‘Benefits and costs of deforestation by smallholders: Implications for forest conservation and climate policy’. Ecological Economics 107(2014), pp. 321-332.

  • Milne, S. 2013 ‘Under the leopard’s skin: Land commodification and the dilemmas of Indigenous communal title in upland Cambodia’. Asia Pacific Viewpoint 54(3), pp. 323-339

  • Mahanty, S., Dressler, W., Milne, S., Filer, C. 2013 ‘Unravelling property relations around forest carbon’. Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 34(2013), pp. 188-205

  • Milne, S. 2012 ‘Grounding forest carbon: Property relations and avoided deforestation in Cambodia’. Human Ecology 40(5), pp. 693-706.

  • Mahanty, S., Milne, S., Dressler, W., Filer, C. 2012 ‘The social life of forest carbon: Property and politics in the production of a new commodity’ Human Ecology 40(5), pp. 661-664.

  • Milne, S. and Adams, W. 2012 ‘Market Masquerades: Uncovering the politics of community-level Payments for Environmental Services in Cambodia’ Development and Change 43(1),133-158

  • Milne, S. and Niesten, E. 2009 ‘Direct payments for biodiversity conservation in developing countries: practical insights for design and implementation’. Oryx, 43(4), 530-541


  • Milne, Sarah and Sango Mahanty (eds). 2015 ‘Conservation and development in Cambodia: Exploring frontiers of change in nature, state and society’, Routledge, Oxon. See book outline and interview about the book

Book Chapters

  • Milne, S. 2017 ‘Combining participatory tools with ethnography in rural Cambodia’ in Crawford G., Kruckenberg L., Loubere N., Morgan R. (eds) ‘Undertaking Research in Global Development’ SAGE, London. p. 53-58

  • Milne, S. and Mahanty, S. 2015 ‘The political ecology of Cambodia’s transformation’ in Milne, S. and Mahanty, S. (eds.) ‘Conservation and development in Cambodia: Exploring frontiers of change in nature, state and society’ Routledge, Oxon. p. 1-27

  • Milne, S., Pak, K., & Sullivan M. 2015 ‘Shackled to nature? The post-conflict state and its relationship with natural resources’ in Milne, S. and Mahanty, S. (eds.) ‘Conservation and development in Cambodia: Exploring frontiers of change in nature, state and society’ Routledge, Oxon. p. 28-50

  • Mahanty, S., Bradley, A., & Milne, S. 2015 ‘The forest carbon commodity chain in Cambodia’s voluntary carbon market.’ in Milne, S. and Mahanty, S. (eds.) ‘Conservation and development in Cambodia: Exploring frontiers of change in nature, state and society’ Routledge, Oxon. p. 177-200

Other contributions

  • Milne S. 2017 “On the perils of resistance: Local politics and environmental struggle in Cambodia” International Institute for Asian Studies Newsletter, No. 78, Leiden here
  • Milne S. and Mahanty, S. 2015 “Through the cracks, light enters: Thinking differently about environmental reform in Cambodia” New Mandala here

  • Milne, S. and Chervier, C. 2014 “A review of payments for environmental services experiences in Cambodia” Centre for International Forest Research (CIFOR) Working Paper no.154, Bogor, here

  • Milne, S. 2014 “Resource conflicts: Can Cambodia’s sites of struggle become sources of hope?” East Asia Forum Quarterly, March-May issue here

  • Milne, S. 2013 “Situation analysis at three project sites on Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia: An exploration of the socio-economic, institutional, and political context for community-based fisheries management”. IUCN Report - download here

  • Co-hosted a public forum at ANU (2013) “Political transitions and the environment: What can we learn from Cambodia’s recent election results?” see flyer

  • Milne S. 2013 ‘Easy money: How the timber shadow economy shapes development and the state in Cambodia’, European Association of Southeast Asian Studies (EuroSEAS) meeting, Lisbon. This was for a panel that I co-convened with Dr Jacqui Baker entitled ‘Illicit economies and the state in Southeast Asia’; now forthcoming in 2015 as a special issue for Critical Asian Studies

  • Milne S. 2012 ‘The dark side of green: Exploring corruption and international conservation in Cambodia’, for International Workshop on Corruption, Natural Resources and the Environment, hosted by Australian National University and the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Bogor

  • Milne, S. 2012 ‘Chut Wutty: Tragic casualty of Cambodia’s dirty war to save forests’ New Mandala – New perspectives on Mainland Southeast Asia, April 30th

  • Milne, S. and Ouk, L. 2012 ‘A Not-so-perfect Match? Community experiences with the coupling of avoided deforestation and agricultural intensification in upland Cambodia’. Paper for conference ‘Climate Change Mitigation with Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities’, United Nations University- Traditional Knowledge Initiative, Cairns 26th -28th March

  • Milne, S. 2011 ‘State making and forest conservation in remote Cambodia.’ Paper at the Association for Asian Studies Annual Conference, Hawaii, March 2011.

  • Milne, S. 2009 ‘Global ideas, local realities: The political ecology of payments for biodiversity conservation services in Cambodia’. PhD thesis, University of Cambridge.

  • Milne, S. 2009 ‘Putting ‘global’ conservation into practice: ethnographic insights into transnational policy implementation’, Association of American Geographers 2009 Annual Meeting, Las Vegas, U.S.A.