Ghana is one of the pilot countries for the development of the VERRA landscape.
Photo: © GIZ/Ursula Meissner

Towards sustainable cultivation regions with VERRA

The complex challenges of global supply chains demand innovative solutions. Civil society, governments and businesses have to pull together. Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit is participating in an international advisory group that is to set the agenda for the development of the VERRA Landscape Standard.

Sustainability standards are increasingly coming under fire, reference above all being made to their resulting in “green islands”, since they  only develop their effectiveness on a single plantation or farm, but not in an entire cultivation region. Reasons mentioned for this are a low level of implementation, excessive costs and lacking access to smallholders. Further arguments against sustainability standards include some firms making use of them for greenwashing and the proliferation of labels on the market. Such a multitude of information merely overwhelms consumers instead of helping them to make the right choice when shopping.

Now, more and more companies are opting for a different approach to establish sustainable agricultural supply chains in the producer countries. Here, the local governments play a key role, for it has been realised that integrating them is crucial to the development of supply chains in sustainably managed cultivation regions. Addressing the problems that have so far hindered an across-the-board dissemination of standards in agricultural production can only be accomplished with the support of local governments.

Sustainably managed cultivation regions above all require that all agro-based products are established in the context of a local strategy for sustainable agricultural development. This represents an essential precondition for avoiding displacement effects. Companies reward the common efforts of all actors in the cultivation region by investing in the region or giving preference to procuring commodities from such sustainable cultivation regions. This in turn creates incentives for the local actors.

But such engagement also has to be credibly communicated by the companies themselves, even if only to avoid possible damage to its image. And here, sustainability standards again come into play. Currently, an alliance of non-governmental organisations are working on the development of the so-called VERRA Landscape Standard. VERRA stands for ‘verification’ and ‘terra’, has been derived from the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS). Germany’s Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) is supporting the development of this standard. 

Deforestation, biodiversity and water at the centre of VERRA

Monitoring deforestation, biodiversity and the availability of water are key aspects of VERRA. In addition to ecology, the economy also plays an important role, for instance in terms of sustainable area management and the development of yields. And last but not least, social aspects such as complying with labour rights are an integral element of the VERRA Landscape Standard.

Currently, the VERRA Landscape Standard is being developed in the pilot countries Guatemala, Costa Rica, Peru and Ghana. A 13-member Advisory Group whose members include Mars, Unilever, Olam, the European Investment Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank are providing strategic assistance in the development of VERRA. Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) also belongs to the Advisory Group.

The standard is still in its infancy, and advisory support is to help ensure that the standard serves the needs of the target group. To this end, individual Advisory Group members are jointly compiling the principles, criteria and indicators of a Landscape Standard. The Advisory Group is also meant to assist in dissemination and the integration of further actors.

Jonas Dallinger, Deutsche Gesellschaft für international Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), Bonn, Germany