Oya, C, Schaefer, F, Skalidou, D, McCosker, C and Langer, L, 2017. Effects of certification schemes for agricultural production on socio-economic outcomes in low- and middle-income countries: A systematic review. 3ie Systematic Review 34. London: International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie).Link to Source
Headline Findings: a summary statement
The review found find more evidence of positive effects on intermediate outcomes (producer prices and agricultural income from certified products) than on endpoint outcomes (wages, household income and assets).
The review includes included 43 impact evaluations measuring effects of certification schemes and 136 high quality qualitative studies examining barriers and enablers. Eighty-three included studies were in Latin America and the Caribbean, 65 in Africa, 15 in South Asia and 5 in East Asia and the Pacific Studies evaluated the 12 types of certification schemes including Fairtrade, Organic, UTZ, GlobalGAP, Rainforest Alliance, 4C.
Implications for policy and practice
The impact on yields is mixed. Some certification schemes aim to improve productivity and quality, and others do not explicitly aim to increase yields. Capacity building initiatives focus on empowering producer organisations and strengthening their position in the value chain, rather than on yield improvements. Adopting organic standards may lead to reduced yields because of the absence of chemical inputs. Where schemes focus on increasing yields, inadequate implementation of nontailored training and lack of credit are important constraints in the effective adoption of yield-enhancing practices.
Prices for certified products increased. Possible reasons cited for price increases are price guarantees, provided by schemes such as Fairtrade, and/or access to more remunerative markets, facilitated by schemes such as GlobalGAP. Some evidence suggests that comparing higher certified prices with certification costs leads to a more realistic measure of incentives associated with certification.
Income from certified products was slightly higher overall, though there is substantial variation in results across 10 studies. On average, schemes such as GlobalGAP and UTZ do better in combining effective capacity building with access to remunerative markets. For Fairtrade, higher prices are not always high enough to compensate for low yields. Some evidence suggests that demand constraints for certified products are key barriers to increasing market income.
Wages for workers ranged from no different to slightly lower than wages for similar workers elsewhere. Selective targeting of schemes focusing only on employees of large-scale plantations or processing facilities excludes workers employed by smallholders. The limitations of existing monitoring mechanisms, as well as a country’s labour laws and enforcement mechanisms, can often impede adoption of the labour standards mandated by the certification schemes.
Average household incomes or asset ownership did not increase. Some evidence indicates that households may derive only a small part of their income from the sale of certified products. Neither of the two studies reporting on household wealth found a positive impact.
School attendance was marginally higher, on average, though there is substantial variation in results. Only studies conducted in Africa found significant impacts. Studies in Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean did not. Studies that reported on illness did not find significant impacts.
Implications for further research
The number of certification schemes for which evidence is available is limited, reflecting a bias towards a handful of schemes, especially Fairtrade, which accounts for more than half of the included studies. More research is needed on the impacts of schemes that have not yet been evaluated, and on the impacts, in new contexts, of schemes that have been evaluated elsewhere. Most schemes have bundled interventions, making it hard to identify the causes of given impacts. Future research should adopt a theory-based approach, ensuring that outcomes are measured consistently along the causal chain, from prices, yields and output quality to incomes and human development outcomes.
Certification schemes in agriculture set voluntary standards and monitor and support compliance, with the objective of making production socially sustainable and terms of trade fairer for smallholder farmers and workers. There has been a proliferation of these schemes since the early 1990s, linked to promoting either product quality from the consumer perspective or ethical and social standards in production to help address the plight of small producers and workers. Certified products such as bananas, cocoa, coffee, cotton, sugar and tea are popular among ethical consumers and are sold in supermarkets worldwide. Certification schemes tailor the standards they develop and the inputs they provide to the needs of a variety of stakeholders, including processors, producers and workers. Their socio-economic objectives are usually to improve farm yields and prices received by farmers, possibly leading to higher farm incomes, total household incomes, assets and social development indicators. By committing to better labour standards, they also aim to improve wages and other working conditions.
Primary review question: What are the effects of certification schemes for sustainable agricultural production, and their associated interventions, on socio-economic outcomes for farmers, wage-labourers and households?
Secondary review question: Under what circumstances, and why, do certification schemes for agricultural commodities have the intended and/or unintended effects? What are the barriers to and enablers of certification’s intended and/or unintended effects?and/or any one statement does not always contain all of the objectives (this information might be at several places in the review).
Includable studies had to examine farm-level interventions in the production of agricultural commodities under certification schemes that have clearly defined socio-economic goals and third party auditing. Populations of interest were agricultural producers (farmers) and wage workers in low-and middle-income countries. To address review question one (RQ1) on effectiveness, the authors included rigorous impact evaluation studies using experimental and quasi-experimental designs, including controlled before and after (CBA) studies with contemporaneous data collection and with two or more control and intervention sites, as well as ex post observational studies with non-treated comparison groups and adequate control for confounding. These studies had to report on at least one of the following outcomes: household income or consumption or other measure of socio-economic status; health and education of adults and children; gender equity; producers' and workers' empowerment; gross or net returns to certified production; productivity of commodities; price levels, wages, non-wage labour conditions, organisational empowerment of producers' and workers' organisations; or investments in services and infrastructure.
To address review question two (RQ2) on barriers and enablers, they included any study reporting on implementation dynamics, distributional dynamics or a range of other barriers and enablers using a range of qualitative studies, or through qualitative research which was either part of quantitative impact evaluations or mixed-methods evaluations.
The authors searched relevant websites and databases including AgEcon, JOLIS, IDEAS, Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) and Econlit with all searches completed by December 2015. They employed meta-analysis and thematic synthesis to address their research questions.
This is a strong review with a comprehensive search, and thorough screening, coding and synthesis procedures. One minor limitation is that the authors were not inclusive of studies in all languages, though they did include studies in multiple languages. A further minor limitation is that while the authors summarise the findings of all RQ2 studies on barriers and enablers, they do not provide a study-by-study list of the results from RQ1 effectiveness studies.