Are certifications helpful for coffee farmers?

Are certifications helpful for coffee farmers?

April 08, 2023

Helpful or harmful? How are certifications affecting coffee farmers?


Coffee certifications have become increasingly popular in recent years as consumers demand transparency and sustainability in the products they purchase. These certifications are meant to ensure that coffee farmers are paid fairly, and that the coffee they produce is grown and harvested using environmentally friendly and socially responsible practices. However, the reality is that these certifications are often driven by people outside of coffee growing countries and are expected to be upheld by people within these countries, creating an unsustainable supply chain.


While the intentions behind certifications such as the big names you know (the ones branded as fair, environmentally friendly, naturally grown etc.) are admirable, the reality is that they can be challenging to implement and maintain in coffee growing countries. For example, the cost of certification can be prohibitively high for small-scale coffee farmers, who make up a significant portion of the industry. Additionally, the certification process can be complicated, requiring farmers to adhere to strict guidelines and regulations.


In addition, the coffee industry is continually evolving as new cultivars and growth methods appear on a regular basis. This means that in order to keep certifications current and useful, they must be updated frequently. For certification organizations that are frequently situated in Western nations and lack the knowledge and resources to keep up with these developments, this can be a struggle. 


Another issue with certifications is that they can create a false sense of security for consumers. Just because a coffee is certified "Fair or Environmentally friendly" does not necessarily mean that the farmers who produced it were paid fairly or that the environment was protected. The reality is that certification is just one aspect of a complex supply chain that involves many different players, including coffee roasters, importers, and exporters. If any of these players in the chain fail to uphold the standards set by the certification, then the entire system falls apart.

Finally, it's worth noting that certifications don't always lead to higher prices for farmers. While the idea behind certifications is that they create a premium for sustainable and ethical products, the reality is that this premium is often absorbed by unnecessary middlemen in the supply chain. It's important to note, that some individuals in the middle are essential to the coffee supply chain. There are many good people who work closely with farmers to help them improve the quality of the crops and actually buy coffee for a price that is above cost of production. However for farmers who don't have access to those people, this means that farmers may not see any significant increase in their earnings, despite the additional effort and expense required to achieve certification.


In conclusion, while the concept of coffee certifications is admirable, it's important to recognize that they are not a panacea for the challenges facing the coffee industry. Instead, we need to work together to create more sustainable and equitable supply chains that prioritize the needs of farmers and the environment. This may involve creating new certification systems that are better suited to the needs of coffee growing countries, or it may require a more collaborative approach that involves all players in the supply chain working together to create a more sustainable future for coffee. Learn more about our BeyondFair program and the steps we are taking to create a more economical and environmental sustainable supply chain.