Sustainability Standards & Smallholder Farmers: Opportunities to address poverty through trade

COVID-19 has slowed progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by increasing poverty worldwide. It has had severe effects on smallholder farmers—especially in developing and least-developed countries. This underlines the need for a resilient, sustainable trading system that promotes progress toward the SDGs.

Voluntary sustainability standards (VSSs) are instruments that influence how global value chains operate, strengthen farmer market access, and support the achievement of sustainable development outcomes.

This session examined VSSs as a collective, multistakeholder approach to sustainable trade and shared findings from the new report: IISD’s SSI Review: Standards and Poverty Reduction.

It explores the following questions:

  • How can VSSs reduce poverty for small-scale farmers in the wake of COVID-19?
  • What determines if small-scale farmers can access VSS-compliant markets?
  • How can governments support positive sustainable development impacts for smallholder farmers through VSS?

Overall, our new research shows specifically how sustainability standards can contribute to poverty reduction efforts and points to actions that policy-makers, buyers, and the VSS community can take to maximize their potential.

The event was co-hosted by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).


  • Cristina Larrea, Lead Sustainability Standards, IISD


  • Hon. Christophe Bazivamo, Deputy Secretary General, East African Community
  • Sara Elder, Policy Advisor, IISD
  • Henk Gilhuis, Manager Research and Impacts, Rainforest Alliance
  • Marike de Pena, Managing Director, Banelino
  • Norbert Tuyishime, Program Officer, Eastern Africa Farmers Federation


  • Niema Elamin, Economist, UNCTAD
  • Santiago Fernandez de Cordoba, Senior Economist, UNCTAD
  • Ann Wilkings, Associate, IISD