Does environmental certification in coffee promote "business as usual"? A case study from the Western Ghats, India

Ambio. 2016 Dec;45(8):946-955. doi: 10.1007/s13280-016-0796-3. Epub 2016 Jun 21.


Conservation initiatives are designed to address threats to forests and biodiversity, often through partnerships with natural-resource users who are incentivized to change their land-use and livelihood practices to avoid further biodiversity loss. In particular, direct incentives programmes that provide monetary benefits are commended for being effective in achieving conservation across short timescales. In biodiversity-rich areas, outside protected areas, such as coffee agroforestry systems, direct incentives, such as certification schemes, are used to motivate coffee producers to maintain native tree species, natural vegetation, restrict wildlife hunting, and conserve soil and water, in addition to encouraging welfare of workers. However, despite these claims, there is a lack of strong evidence of the on-ground impact of such schemes. To assess the conservation importance of certification, we describe a case study in the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot of India, in which coffee growers are provided price incentives to adopt Rainforest Alliance certification standards. We analyse the conservation and social outcomes of this programme by studying peoples' experiences of participating in certification. Despite high compliance and effective implementation, we find a strong case for the endorsement of 'business as usual' with no changes in farm management as a result of certification. We find that such 'business as usual' participation in certification creates grounds for diminishing credibility and local support for conservation efforts. Working towards locally relevant conservation interventions, rather than implementing global blueprints, may lead to more meaningful biodiversity conservation and increased community support for conservation initiatives in coffee landscapes.

Keywords: Agroforestry; Asia; Certification; Incentives; Perceptions.

MeSH terms

  • Biodiversity
  • Coffea / growth & development*
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • Forestry / methods
  • Forestry / organization & administration
  • Forestry / standards*
  • India
  • Rainforest*
  • Trees / growth & development*