Consumers today are confronted with a growing array of certification labels, but research published today shows that costs and benefits of these schemes vary greatly, and that certification may have little to offer the poorest producers.
Currently, a good section of Malawian tea and sugar producers are producing under Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance. The producers have to meet strict requirements to ensure that their products are certified.
Fairtrade Network Malawi coordinator Doreen Chanje could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Results of the study released on Monday indicate that researchers at IIED reviewed several certification on coffee, tea and cotton produced in China, Vietnam, Indonesia and India.
“Schemes such as Rainforest Alliance, UTZ Certified and CAFÃ‰ Practices offer no minimum prices, no guaranteed premiums and do not aim to address price volatility and inequity in the value chain, though they are less bureaucratic than other schemes and do enable market access,” says co-author Emma Blackmore.
Other schemes include organic and Fairtrade labels, both of which have different emphasis and costs and benefits. While organic labelling schemes are likely to create environmental benefits, their social and economic benefits are less clear.
Fairtrade certification can act as an important safety net by guaranteeing minimum prices for poor farmers, but, according to the study, in some cases the share of retail prices that goes to Fairtrade producers is less than for conventional products.
IIED says Fairtrade premiums have fallen in real terms over time and will need to be adjusted to make any significant difference to the livelihoods of small-scale farmers, say the researchers.
“Certification schemes are often touted as means for poor farmers in developing nations to improve their livelihood security and farm in a way that is better for their environment,” says James Keeley.
“But there is little information available that allows rigorous and meaningful comparisons between the many schemes. Our study concludes that it is unlikely that any will emerge as a clear pro-poor winner, and that whether a scheme will benefit small-scale farmers will depend on local conditions.”
For small-scale farmers, the benefits of certification can include long-term relationships with buyers and therefore potentially better returns, and greater negotiating power in schemes â€“ such as Fairtrade â€” that require farmers to form democratic producer organisations.