Designing Standards for Impacts at Scale

By Bambi Semroc, Center for Environmental Leadership in Business (CELB), Conservation International

Several posts in this Landscapes Roundtable have said sustainability standards may play an important role in shifting the way in which agricultural landscapes are managed. While great strides have recently taken place, there are still many challenges to address, particularly in terms of monitoring and evaluation. And to go further, making these standards relevant at a landscape scale requires an added level of coordination and creativity. Senior Strategic Advisor in Conservation International’s CELB, Bambi Semroc concludes this Roundtable with some key insights into how to help sustainability standards and certifications have impacts for biodiversity, ecosystem services, and livelihoods at scale.

Landscapes often resemble a patchwork or mosaic of land uses. These mosaics can be rather simple with only a few types of land use occurring, or quite complex with multiple and sometimes competing land uses. They often consist of at a minimum agricultural areas, conservation areas, and those used for housing and infrastructure. More complex landscapes may include extractive industries, forestry, manufacturing, and other uses.

Market and finance mechanisms have tremendous potential to impact the ways in which these landscapes take shape, with positive or negative implications for biodiversity conservation and the maintenance of ecosystem services. For instance, conventional markets often incentivize growth and expansion of agriculture, which may come at a cost for biodiversity and ecosystem services within a landscape. The introduction of sustainability standards and certification programs such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, Rainforest Alliance, and others is an effort to promote adoption of sustainable practices by agricultural producers.

By operating at the farm scale, these programs provide incentives for producers to adopt better management practices and conserve natural habitat on their lands. The hypothesis is that if a large proportion of producers in a landscape adopt these practices, biodiversity and ecosystem service benefits will result at scale. There is no assurance, however, that this scale of impact is being achieved via these commodity-driven programs. For instance, there may be situations where a single farm is applying sustainable practices within a broader agricultural production landscape consisting of less sustainable producers. For certification to achieve impacts at scale, there is a clear need for targeting a large proportion of farms in a given landscape to adopt more sustainable practices.

The agricultural lands within a landscape are often a mosaic in their own right, encompassing a range of commodities and production systems. The agricultural landscape may be one of multiple commodities, such as in North Sumatra where a combination of palm oil, coffee, cocoa, rubber, and rice are all present within a single landscape. And a single farmer is likely to be producing multiple commodities. In this scenario a single farmer may need to pursue multiple certifications to market each product under a sustainability brand. Yet, for smallholder producers, who often have the most diversified farms, pursuing multiple certifications may prove quite cost prohibitive due to the need to pay for multiple farm audits.

New financial and market mechanisms are needed to address these issues and realize the vision of sustainable agricultural landscapes. Conservation International (CI) has been working with partners in Chiapas, Mexico and San Martin, Peru to develop innovative approaches to engaging coffee communities in landscape conservation. In both cases, we have been testing the ability of REDD+ models to provide incentives for landscape level conservation of forest habitats in the case of Peru and reforestation in the case of Mexico. In San Martin, we identified coffee production as one of the main drivers of deforestation and have developed and implemented an avoided deforestation REDD+ program that also meets the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCB) Standards to incentivize producers to respect forest boundaries. In Chiapas, we have worked with communities in the Sierra Madre to implement reforestation activities that result in carbon credit payments to farmers. The Chiapas project is an example of engaging with individual farmers to develop reforestation plans for their lands – which may include a coffee plot, a corn and bean field, and some pasture – that identify the most opportune sites for restoration activities. The development and implementation of these projects in both contexts has resulted in proof of concept models that have informed government policy efforts and facilitated their expansion and replication.

REDD+ mechanisms that adhere to the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standards are the closest thing we have to a landscape certification program that verifies sustainable management of a landscape for multiple uses, and simultaneously provides credible assurance against deforestation. Although complex, when implemented in agricultural landscapes this system can be an effective mechanism for addressing deforestation related to agricultural expansion. It can also provide farmers with incentives for reforestation within conservation corridors. Today these programs operate alongside agriculture certification standards, but the more we can integrate REDD+, CCB standards, and certifications, the more likely we are to achieve both conservation and production objectives within agricultural landscapes.

Read More:
Reducing Risk: Landscape Approaches to Sustainable Sourcing - Starbucks and Conservation International Case Study

Photo courtesy of Paul Goodman
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One Response to Designing Standards for Impacts at Scale

  1. jhoncarter says:

    The agricultural lands within a landscape are often a mosaic in their own right, these mosaics can be rather simple with only a few types of land use occurring, or quite complex with multiple and sometimes competing land uses.
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