Research: Evaluating benefits of coffee certification programs

by JulieCraves on July 26, 2007

Field-testing ecological and economic benefits of coffee certification programs.
S. M. Philpot, P. Bichier, R. Rice, and R. Greenberg. 2007. Conservation Biology 21:975-985.

This study looked at the ecological (vegetation, ants and birds) and economic (yield, revenue) aspects of coffee growing for eight cooperatives in Chiapas, Mexico. Farms were certified organic, organic and Fair Trade, or uncertified. None were certified shade-grown, so farms were examined to see if they would meet shade certification criteria.

The authors found no significant differences in vegetation, bird or ant diversity, or percent of forest fauna on farms based on what type of certification they had. While none of the farms had the necessary complexity of vegetation layers that shade certification required, but the other vegetation criteria met by those farms nonetheless corresponded with higher ant and bird diversity. I think this emphasizes the importance of the specific criteria known as “vertical stratification,” or the percent of leaf volume in each of the three layers of vegetation in shaded coffee. I’ll talk a bit more about this in a follow-up post.

Organic farms had a higher number of tree species, and shared more tree, bird, and ant species with forests than uncertified farms or (curiously) those that were certified both organic and Fair Trade.

There was no difference in yield based on certification, contradicting a common perception that without chemical pesticides and fertilizers, yield will decrease.

Farmers with organic or organic and fair trade certification did not always have higher revenues than uncertified farms. Partly this was due to the costs associated with certification programs. Another factor was the differing market prices between the two years of the study. When market prices increased, the premiums for organic coffee rose, but the premium for Fair Trade coffee did not. This can dilute the relative increase for farmers in Fair Trade co-ops, and exposes a previously-discussed weakness in the Fair Trade model. I think the overall lack of substantially higher revenues in certified organic coffee also illustrates the need for some type of a) reform in the cost of certifications and/or b) an increase in the premiums paid to farmers for sustainable coffee — which would require willingness by consumers to pay more.

Revised on November 2, 2010

Posted in Certifications,Research on coffee growing

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