In Africa, coffee is traditionally produced by very small farms with poor access to agricultural inputs and extension. In such situations, sustainability standards give reason to expect positive yield and income effects.
Photo: Eva-Marie Meemken

21.03.2017

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Sustainability standards such as Fairtrade, Organic and Rainforest Alliance promise to improve the livelihoods of poor farmers in developing countries while protecting the environment. Development agencies often promote and facilitate farmer adoption of sustainability standards. From a development perspective, it is important to understand whether such standards actually deliver on their promise. This question is hotly debated. What does the scientific evidence say?

Millions of farmers are certified under sustainability standards such as Fairtrade (about 1.65 million), UTZ (about 1 million), Rainforest Alliance (about 1.2 million) and Organic (about 2.3 million). Sustainability standards are gaining in importance especially for higher-value foods from developing countries (also see Box at end of article). The development for certified coffee, cocoa, palm oil and tea is particularly remarkable. An estimated 30 per cent of the global coffee area, 20 per cent of the global cocoa area, 15 per cent of the global palm oil area, and 9 per cent of the global tea area are certified under different sustainability-oriented standards.

The proliferation of sustainability standards and related certification schemes in developing countries is attributable to different factors. Stand-ards address food quality and safety, environmental and human rights, and welfare issues along agricultural value chains. An increasing number of consumers, especially in developed countries, are concerned about such issues.

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