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Responding to Globalization: Impacts of Certification on Colombian Small-Scale Coffee Growers

Ximena Rueda, Department of Environmental Earth System Science, School of Earth Sciences, Stanford University; School of Management, Universidad de los Andes
Eric F. Lambin, Department of Environmental Earth System Science, School of Earth Sciences, Stanford University; Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University; Georges Lemaître Centre for Earth and Climate Research, Earth and Life Institute, Université catholique de Louvain


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Eco-certification of food and other agricultural products has been promoted as a way of making markets work for sustainability. Certification programs offer a price premium to producers who invest in more sustainable practices. The literature on the impacts of certification has focused primarily on the economic benefits farmers perceive from participating in these schemes. These benefits, however, are often subject to price variability, offering only a partial explanation of why farmers join and stay in certification programs. We evaluated the potential of the Rainforest Alliance certification program to foster more resilient social-ecological systems in the face of globalization. Using the case of Santander, Colombia, and a pair-based comparison of 86 households to effectively produce a robust counterfactual, we showed that certification provides important environmental benefits, while improving the well-being of farmers and their communities. Furthermore, the study showed that price premiums are only one of many elements defining the success of certification, particularly important for motivating farmers to join, but less so to explain retention and upgrading. The case of Colombian coffee growers illustrates how the connections between local social-ecological systems and larger global forces can produce more sustainable livelihoods and land uses.

Key words

coffee; Colombia; eco-certification; globalization; land change

Copyright © 2013 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087