Participatory development of common certification codes and practices for small coffee growing farm households
The landscape of sustainable coffee is going through a rapid transformation from a niche market to a fully recognized strategic business management tool for both mainstream and specialty coffee. Current trends suggest that certified coffee is not only here to stay, but that conformity with one voluntary standard or another will soon become a requirement for market entry. In fact, many coffee growers in Nicaragua are already using more than one certification to gain access to various coffee markets. This implies that certified coffee farmers are making significant on-farm investments and management changes to meet multiple certification requirements, while implementing administrative and monitoring programs to manage the paperwork associated with multiple certification programs.
Costs and efforts related to multiple certifications are high, and this may become an unbearable burden, especially for small producers. Hence, it is urgent to develop innovative mechanisms to reduce these costs and make multiple certification of coffee a viable mechanism for linking small coffee growers to better and more rewarding coffee markets.
During the territorial analysis carried out by Humidtropics in northern Nicaragua in 2014, member organizations of the coffee territorial alliance identified, as one of their research for development priorities, the development of a common internal certification scheme with consolidated codes and practices demanded by the currently used certifications (i.e. Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, Organic, and SPP).
A compelling option, its implementation also requires the development of internal auditing capacity through training a critical mass of local youth in the communities who help coffee growing farm households to manage data registry and decision making based on the common internal certification scheme.
Subsequently, Aldea Global, a farmers’ organization and member of the territorial learning alliance, took the lead and proposed, in collaboration with CIAT, a participatory research project to develop common certification codes and practices (Certificación Aldea). The project was approved and financed by Humidtropics, considered to be a “quick win” effectively contributing to intermediate development objective related to social innovation of institutions and markets.
Over the next three years, Aldea Global, CIAT through Humidtropics, and other members of the territorial learning alliances will develop a common internal certification scheme and foster collective learning and training of local youth to use the scheme. Together with participating coffee growing farm households, they will test and adapt the common internal certification scheme in different communities and municipalities. Data and information collected from the wide range of households will be used to make the system robust, effective and efficient.
Accumulated experience in developing and implementing a common internal certification scheme will be harnessed into a tool kit which will facilitate implementation of similar schemes by other member organizations of Humidtropics in Nicaragua and other countries of Central America and Caribbean region.
Blog and photograph by Falguni Guharay, Scientist, Research for Development, CIAT, Humidtropics and Policy, Institution and Markets