Advisory Services

Voluntary sustainability standards (VSSs) can be a useful tool for developing countries seeking to support local livelihoods and promote exports while encouraging more environmentally friendly production practices. However, the multitude and variety of sustainability initiatives can make it a complex field to navigate.

The SSI team provides pro-bono advisory services for developing-country governments based on their unique and specific needs. Through this service, we aim to give policy decision-makers the data and knowledge they need to make informed decisions about VSSs and sustainable markets. Our advice covers many topics, including:

  • Designing and implementing standards-related strategies and regulations.
  • Strengthening the country’s competitive advantage in specific commodity markets (by providing information on topics such as best practices for achieving sustainability outcomes, market performance, and buyers’ perception of commodities the country sells).
  • Analyzing production and consumption trends for commodities compliant with VSSs and examining market opportunities.

If you are interested in discussing how we can support your government or regional body to leverage VSSs for sustainable development, please contact us.

Examples of Our Advisory Services Work

Developing a national organic standard for agriculture in Madagascar

Agriculture provides the main source of income in Madagascar. (Photo: David González Rebollo, iStock)

Madagascar is the fifth-largest island in the world and one of the 17 richest countries in biodiversity, as identified by Conservation International. Its diverse climatic regions and geographical isolation have made it the perfect home for some of the world’s most unique flora and fauna.

Agriculture provides the main source of income for most of the people who live there. In 2018, roughly 65% of the population worked in the agricultural sector, which accounted for 22% of the country’s GDP. However, the sector faces significant challenges—ranging from high deforestation rates to fragmented value chains­—which threaten the sustainability of both livelihoods and ecosystems.

To address these challenges, Madagascar’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Fisheries invited us to conduct a study to identify the risks and opportunities associated with the development of a national standard for organic agriculture and organic labelling. Organic certification sets criteria that producers are required to comply with to become more sustainable, such as improving soil fertility, preventing deforestation, and building resilience to climate change.

Our work identified several risks and opportunities that could arise from establishing an organic standard and implementing a national organic agriculture strategy and proposed a series of recommendations to address them. The recommendations were grouped under the following four themes: enhancing producer capacity; supporting education, research, and development; building regulation and institutional capacity; and encouraging market development and promotion. The Government of Madagascar included a number of our recommendations in their national strategy for organic agriculture.

Improving Rwanda’s competitive advantage in the tea and coffee sectors

Rwanda has favourable conditions and infrastructure for growing high-quality Arabica coffee and premium teas. Coffee and tea are important to the economy, contributing 9% to Rwanda’s export earnings and supporting over 375,000 farmers plus their families and seasonal labourers.  

Rwanda’s National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB) and industry actors are working to raise the quality and yields of both crops by expanding growing areas and improving agricultural practices and access to inputs. But this growth is hindered by international competition and the negative effects of climate change, which reduce profitability.  

For the government, overcoming these issues is an important opportunity to promote sustainable agricultural production while supporting livelihoods. 

NAEB invited our advisory services team to examine how its coffee and tea products can be more competitive in the international market. Our work focused on how the country might increase export volumes, improve its business competitiveness, and stand out in the market while enhancing the sustainability and climate resilience of production practices.  

Our report to NAEB suggested that distinguishing Rwandan tea and coffee as high quality and leading on sustainability performance and climate resilience can achieve this goal. The study identified four pillars of this suggested approach: 

  • Using a strategy of differentiation to ultimately achieve greater competitive advantage  
  • Improving business communication and relationship capacities; advancing value-chain integration and visibility  
  • Developing a branding and communication strategy centred on product differentiation and positive sustainability performance in coffee and tea plantations
  • Market development and promotion targeting premiums and sustainable markets. 

Best practices for growing tea and coffee sustainably

Coffee farmer in Colombia

Millions of people across the planet earn livelihoods from the tea and coffee industries, but many face a myriad of sustainability challenges.

As part of our advisory services work, we looked at how countries are finding ways to address these challenges. By identifying successes in major tea- and coffee-producing regions, we can help other developing country policy-makers seeking to tackle similar challenges.

Read about our findings for the tea and coffee industry.

Regional Capacity Building

We also offer tailored regional capacity building workshops. For example, we partnered with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) to deliver a three-module training workshop for stakeholders across the Americas in 2022.