New Research: Certification supports farmer resilience during COVID

Smallholder farmers are key actors in global production systems but are often less likely to have the resources, opportunities, and voice needed to manage risk and maintain their livelihoods when hit with shocks like COVID-19. The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) surveyed 57 supply chain actors to find out how farmers are dealing with the effects of the pandemic and whether certification has helped them cope.

World map showing 6 commodity sectors and 6 countries surveyed.

This study focused on six key commodity sectors: Rice in Cambodia, cotton in India, avocado in Colombia, banana in Guatemala, cashew in Guinea-Bissau, and coffee in Rwanda.

The findings from this study are published in a new IISD policy brief: Coping with COVID-19: Certification supports farmer resilience.

The results suggest that VSSs can indeed help smallholder producers be more resilient.

“We found that standards support higher prices and premiums, stronger supply chain relationships, market diversification, and training for producers,” says author and IISD Policy Advisor Sara Elder. “But certification does not offer full protection from economic shocks.”

As such, the report recommends five key actions that governments can take to ensure farmers have access to the resources they need to cope with supply chain disruptions.

“With the right policies, governments can help smallholder farmers endure COVID-19 and the inevitable crises to come,” Elder says.


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.

The State of Sustainability Initiatives (SSI) is IISD’s international research project that provides credible information about how voluntary sustainability standards (VSSs) can support better environmental and social performance in important commodity sectors.

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