21 August 2019

Certification: an avenue for large scale climate adaptation?

A smallholder farmer in Ethiopia.

Climate change is expected to have severe consequences for millions of smallholder coffee farmers across the tropics. A recent publication by Utrecht University researchers suggests that a landscape approach for coffee production can overcome barriers that prevent smallholders from participating in more effective climate adaptation measures. Certification programmes provide avenues to communicate to farmers about sustainability and good practice, and can facilitate a move towards this landscape approach. 

Climate change is expected to increase the temperature in coffee growing areas, change rainfall patterns and make the climate more variable, with severe impacts on coffee yield and quality. Implementing adaptation measures would lessen farmer vulnerabilities to these impacts.

Effectiveness of adaptation measures not always clear

Various adaptation measures have been identified in literature, but it is not always clear to what extent and at which scale these will be able to minimize the impacts of climate change.

Coffee beans in Vietnam. Photo: Nguyễn Tiên

A landscape approach needed for successful implementation of adaptation measures

René Verburg and colleagues found that for most smallholder farmers the implementation of adaptation measures is largely held back by a lack of access to knowledge networks and training material, organisational support, and financial resources. The authors suggest that a landscape approach that encompasses collective action and coordinated cross-sector planning can overcome some of the barriers that smallholder farmers currently experience.

Certification approaches can facilitate a move towards a landscape approach

In order to reach social and environmental standards, certification programmes provide avenues to communicate to farmers about sustainability and good practice. 

Certification programmes provide avenues to communicate to farmers about sustainability and good practice

“Certification approaches can facilitate a move towards a landscape approach," say the authors. "It's an approach that creates solutions that consider food and livelihoods, finance, rights, restoration and progress towards climate and development goals".

Radical changes needed under substantial climatic change

They conclude that common adaptation measures will have less impact with more drastic climatic changes. “With modest climatic changes, incremental adaptations, through, for example, certification schemes might suffice. More substantial climatic change will require radical social-institutional changes”. 

Further reading

Verburg, R., Rahn, E., Verweij, P., van Kuijk, M. & Ghazoul, J. (2019). An innovation perspective to climate change adaptation in coffee systems, Environmental Science & Policy 97, 16-24. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2019.03.017