Biological Conservation Journal: Where are commodity crops certified, and what does it mean for conservation and poverty alleviation? (2018)

Kericho tea estate, Kenya © Caroline Irby, Rainforest Alliance

At a global level, the environmental and social sustainability of agriculture represents an ongoing challenge. Increasingly, VSS initiatives are being looked upon by public and private actors as a tool to address this issue. As a consequence, certified commodity crops have exponentially grown in the last years. However, research has given little attention to where such crops are located and whether those are in the best place to fulfil their goal. By trying to develop the first global map of commodity crop certification, this article tries to understand the spatial distribution of VSS and whether certified lands are best located for conserving biodiversity and benefiting the most vulnerable producers. 

Results are based on a synthesis of special data from 84,853 certificates covering 1,042,734 million farms. Data were collected from publicly available datasets as well as directly from standards bodies and analysed using bootstrap resampling tests comparing certified and non-certified crops. The analysis considered biodiversity, environmental and livelihood parameters such as ‘Importance of birds’, ‘% Protected area’, ‘travel time to market’ and ‘% of the population in poverty’. Commodities included banana, cocoa, coffee, cotton, tea, soybean, sugar and palm oil. 


The main findings of the report include:

·        “Global levels of certification were highest for coffee (at 9.0% of coffee-growing cells) but much lower for other crops (banana: 0.3%, cocoa: 2.2%, oil palm: 2.2%, sugarcane: 0.6%, soy: 0.2%, tea: 2.0%)”

·        “There were clear large-scale aggregations of certification in Central America, Brazil, West Africa, parts of East Africa and Southeast Asia”

·        “Certified coffee, tea, and cocoa all occurred in cells with higher importance for birds, on average, than that in non-certified cells”

·        “Certified tea occurred in cells with higher importance for amphibians, while the soy production cells with highest amphibian value were less likely to be certified”

·        “For mammals, coffee certification occurred in cells with higher conservation importance than that in coffee cells without certification”


The article main conclusions are:

·        “Certification for each crop is concentrated in certain geographical areas, and largely absent from others”

·        “Most commodity crop certification is in tropical countries, although this is a pattern that would change if spatial data were available for organic schemes”

·        “Patterns varied on a crop-by-crop and country-by-country basis, but overall, certification appears to be concentrated in areas that are important for biodiversity conservation, relatively close to markets, and with lower poverty levels”

·        “Existing standards may be well-positioned to have a conservation impact if they promote the right practices, but are less well-positioned to assist the very poorest farmers”


The main recommendations are:

·        “The impact of sustainability standards could be increased by identifying places where it would be most beneficial to strengthen, consolidate, and expand certification”

·        “Standards organizations will need to undertake more rigorous collection of spatial data, and more detailed analysis of their existing reach and impacts, with attention to potential trade-offs between different objectives”


To read the full report click below.

Posted on 14/02/2018

Available Downloads

Where are commodity crops certified, and what does it mean for conservation and poverty alleviation.pdf(2.29 MB) Download