Agricultural Sustainability Standards Show Potential to Advance East African Policy Goals

Voluntary standards that guide farmers to adopt more sustainable practices can help grow agricultural production and trade in East Africa, according to new research from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), published during the AGRF 2022 Summit in Kigali, Rwanda.

“Agriculture is an economic pillar in the region, a fact echoed by leaders at the AGRF Summit this week. It’s the largest employer in many countries,” said Laura Turley, Associate with IISD’s State of Sustainability Initiatives project and the report’s lead author.

To understand how voluntary sustainability standards (VSSs) can play a role, IISD examined key policy goals of the Eastern African Community (EAC)—an economic bloc of seven* countries—and compared them to the criteria of VSSs already employed by staple crop producers in the region.

“Our analysis shows that by adopting sustainability standards, these farmers can boost productivity, improve intraregional trade, and build resilience to climate change,” said Turley. “Critically, they bring these benefits while protecting vital ecosystems, managing scarce resources efficiently, and supporting workers’ livelihoods and rights.”

“By adopting these standards, farmers in East Africa can address some of the persistent challenges they face, such as pest and disease control and crop contamination,” she said.

The report includes several recommendations for standard-setting bodies, as well as the EAC and its Partner States. “VSS bodies need to invest in pilot projects that showcase the benefits of standards and do more to increase access to certification for farmers,” Turley said. “And policy-makers can act by officially recognizing these schemes, looking for synergies with technical standards, and developing incentive programs and sustainable procurement policies.”

* This research was conducted before the Democratic Republic of the Congo officially joined the East African Community in March 2022, joining Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.


The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is an award-winning independent think tank working to accelerate solutions for a stable climate, sustainable resource management, and fair economies. Our work inspires better decisions and sparks meaningful action to help people and the planet thrive. We shine a light on what can be achieved when governments, businesses, non-profits, and communities come together. IISD’s staff of more than 120 people, plus over 150 associates and consultants, come from across the globe and from many disciplines. With offices in Winnipeg, Geneva, Ottawa, and Toronto, our work affects lives in nearly 100 countries. 


IISD’s State of Sustainability Initiatives (SSI) is an international research project that aims to advance sustainable and inclusive value chains. It provides credible and solution-oriented analysis and dialogue on voluntary sustainability standards and their potential to contribute to sustainable development outcomes.