How Effective is Multiple Certification in Improving the Economic Conditions of Smallholder Farmers? Evidence from an Impact Evaluation in Colombia’s Coffee Belt

Voluntary sustainability standards (VSS) in the coffee sector have become a popular tool to improve the livelihoods of smallholder coffee farmers. As third-party and company-led VSS have proliferated, an increasing number of producer groups are turning toward multiple certification to diversify their export channels. Yet, each certification requires added efforts and expenses, both at the farm and the organisational level. Hence, it is important to evaluate the additionality of multiple certification in bringing benefits to smallholders’ farm economy. This study addresses this research gap using a sample of over 600 coffee farmers from two Fairtrade-certified cooperatives in Colombia’s coffee belt to assess the additional economic impact of Starbucks C.A.F.E. Practices, Nespresso AAA, 4C, and the combination of Rainforest Alliance/Nespresso AAA certification. In examining coffee gross profit and household income, we find limited gains from the addition of industry and company-led standards to the Fairtrade certification. Evaluating pathways to improved economic performance, gross profit improvements appear most likely if higher average prices are combined with lower production costs. Finally, we show that the majority of farmers are unable to break even, irrespective of their certification status. This alarming result illustrates the need for further intervention in the coffee value chain.