Voluntary standards and certification schemes aim to play an important role in the creation of a more sustainable production of agricultural commodities in the South. In this paper, we contend that most studies on the sustainability of these certifications take the objectives of voluntary standard-setting and certifying arrangements as the reference point, thereby implicitly accepting a problem definition that is not necessarily aligned with the needs, interests and preferences of the smallholder producers in a developing context. Based on the results of a four years research project on coffee and palm oil smallholders and certifications in Indonesia, this paper questions the transformative capacity of the standards and certifications regarding a more sustainable agricultural production. This capacity is located at the interface of the global demands, which are channeled down from the top of the value chain, and the local context where local producers take their decisions. Based on the empirical research it is argued that voluntary standards and certifications pave the way for a more sustainable agricultural production, but are not necessarily the right way forward to a more systemic change.
Ecological Economics – Elsevier
Published: May 1, 2018
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