Business.2010 newsletter: Agribusiness

Volume 3, Issue 2 - February 2008: Agribusiness

Delivering on biodiversity conservation through certification

In recent years, we have seen exponential growth rates in the global market for certified products and services. Industry, government, consumer and civil society representatives are increasingly taking advantage of voluntary certification systems to demonstrate social and environmental performance. Accordingly, the use of certification as a tool to guarantee sustainability is leading to the development of a growing number of emerging initiatives in new sectors, from tourism and water to mining, climate change and bioenergy. As this growth continues, credibility, transparency and accountability of certification systems will become even more important as certification becomes a key tool in linking sustainable production and consumption.

Linking the CBD and certification
Biodiversity is at the very core of many of the pioneering international voluntary standards, and in particular of those applied in agribusiness, such as IFOAM - Organic Agriculture, Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) and Fairtrade.

The table here illustrates a few examples of how international voluntary standards effectively contribute to deliver on CBD 2010 Biodiversity Target across focal areas.

Conservation in the Tropical Andes International voluntary standards and certification systems have often acted as leaders in translating political commitments into accessible practices for businesses to adopt and implement.

Containing one sixth of all plant life in less than 1 percent of the world’s land area, the Tropical Andes are a biodiversity hotspot (1). The region is under threat from urban development and accompanying industries: mining, timber extraction, oil exploration, and narcotics plantations. Pronatur has been using certification schemes to help small farmers rebuild their economic base drawing from their traditional knowledge and the rich biodiversity of their environment (2).

The Asociación de Pequeños Productores de Tongorrape (APPT) is an association of nearly 80 family farms producing Fairtrade and organic bananas and mangoes in a coastal area where rainfall is practically nil and water conservation is essential. APPT use traditional farming methods based on centuries-old irrigation methods to bring scarce river water from occasional rainfall high up in the Andes. In compliance with organic certification, a proportion of original woodland is conserved on each farmer’s land, preserving the habitat for birds and reptiles that might otherwise be destroyed. They also comply with Fairtrade standards that specify the implementation of ecologically sound and sustainable practices – in this case the protection of woodland. Endemic squirrels, some endangered birds, large iguanas and even a boa have already returned to the area and the success of this project is inspiring other farms to follow suit.

Higher up in the Alto Mayo Valley, Pronatur works with the hundreds of families that grow Arabica coffee beneath the Cloud Forest canopy. The cloud forests face increasing pressure from hydroelectric dams, and invasive species like the American bullfrog and grasses planted for cattle grazing.

Under the Rainforest Alliance’s Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) Certification, the Alto Mayo Valley coffee producers are required to protect the existing forest and plant native species, facilitating the protection of thousands of hectares of forest and the wildlife it hosts. Certification has also brought non-financial benefits in the form of technology transfer and capacity building. It has helped farmers organise themselves into local associations, which coordinate production, conservation and social improvements. In lieu of pesticides, farmers use biological controls, such as a pathogenic fungus that is cultivated in simple ‘labs’ and used to combat the coffee pest ‘broca’. Additionally, many farmers raise such wild animals as peccaries and agoutis for meat, which relieves hunting pressures on wild populations.

The work of Pronatur is only one example among thousands highlighting how international voluntary standards can help the private sector deliver on the objectives of the CBD. Yet, despite their growing number, examples too often remain anecdotal and just nice stories. I believe that COP-9 represents an important opportunity for governments to address these challenges (see box for recommendations to COP-9).

Sasha Courville is Executive Director, ISEAL Alliance.

The ISEAL Alliance is an open membership association of leading international social and environmental standards and certification systems. ISEAL strengthens and promotes credible and accessible voluntary standards and conformity assessment as effective policy instruments and market mechanisms to bring about positive social and environmental change. Members meeting full membership criteria include the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), the Rainforest Alliance and its Sustainable Agriculture Network Standards, the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO), the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the Marine Aquarium Council (MAC) and Social Accountability International (SAI).

Recommendations to COP-9 on standards and certification
COP-8 led to the updating of the clearing-house mechanism with information on best practice, COP-9 should recommend the CBD to work together with international voluntary standards to develop knowledge sharing and technical assistance tools to actually use that best practice and, crucially, collate an understanding of both their constraints in working towards CBD objectives, as well as the impacts they are actually delivering.

At the same time, business solutions such as voluntary standards and certification systems should not continue to be seen as separate approaches to those that the CBD engages in with governments. Examples of enhanced delivery through public - private collaborations are widespread. The shape of these collaborations can be very diverse, ranging from the use of standards as a tool for regulatory enforcement, through to governments as direct clients of private standards. Understanding what brought these partnerships about, and what lies behind their success, should be included in the 2009-2010 work programmes of the CBD, as it would provide the Convention with an enhanced tool-kit to be able to promote greater engagement by the voluntary sector alongside a more supportive regulatory environment by governments, needs already identified in COP-8 (Decision VIII/17).

Increasing the potential for collaboration between business and government is particularly important for the success of the CBD. Since for many companies business choices are defined at national level, the development and implementation of the national biodiversity strategies and action plans, cornerstones of the CBD’s strategy (Decision VIII/8), offer an opportunity to ensure private sector integration in public policy implementation. COP-9 should recommend the use of international voluntary standards and certification systems as an important instrument Parties to the Convention should include in their biodiversity action plans to deliver on the Convention. Certification can be a simple and effective tool in translating broad policy commitments into concrete deliverables for the private sector to use in sustainable management.

(1) http://www.biodiversityhotspots.org/xp/hotspots/andes/Pages/default.aspx
(2) http://www.pronatur.com.pe

  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme