2016 Annual Letter

A Turning Point for Sustainability

2016 Annual Letter


Dear Friends,

2015 marked a defining moment for sustainable agriculture with the signing of the Sustainable Development Goals and a growing number of public-private partnerships that aim to help realize them.

As countries, companies, and NGOs work to implement the Goals, COSA’s role is front and center – helping define what to measure in order to accelerate agricultural sustainability. Ultimately, COSA’s metrics and tools help create accountability in order to ensure getting results.

As we look out at the sustainability landscape, we are energized by the number of programs and initiatives across academia, civil society, government, and the private sector. At the same time, few of these initiatives take the holistic, multi-stakeholder, systemic approach that is needed for progress. Many lack robust assessment and monitoring frameworks. Almost none connect program data to decision-makers in real-time.

Our work over the past year has focused on integrating efforts within companies and across standards to address these challenges: helping the private sector apply responsible sourcing practices in their supply chains; influencing policy by increasing understanding of sustainability standards; and sharing best practices to grow our collective impact.

In the coming year, in addition to our work advancing common metrics and maintaining the rigor and neutrality we are known for, we look forward to expanding our efforts to new areas of work and wider audiences to help realize the SDGs and accelerate agricultural sustainability world-wide.

Some key focal areas:

Producer Organizations
Empowering farmers

Often, smallholders are best reached through the cooperatives to which they belong. According to the FAO, over one billion belong to cooperatives and producer organizations around the world, most of these in the agricultural sector.

Thanks to a multi-lateral effort and great input from our Producer Organization Advisory Panel, we will be piloting and launching Producer Organization Assessments to help cooperatives and their members see greater sustainability and improve their livelihoods.

Resilience image
Developing practical metrics to build resilience

Improving the resilience of smallholders is critical for agricultural sustainability. The need for an approach which continuously integrates the social, economic, and environmental aspects of sustainability is therefore more important than ever as we work across sectors toward achieving the SDGs.

Together with our partners Catholic Relief Services, Lutheran World Relief, Sustainable Food Lab, and Root Capital, we are launching work on resilience which will integrate cross-cutting indicators to help initiatives measure how resilient farming communities are to external shocks and stressors like climate change.

Sector Indicators
Monitoring sector transformation

Identifying effective interventions is key to ensuring progress over time. Yet robust long-term monitoring efforts within regions or subsectors have not kept pace with rapid increases in sustainability-oriented programs and investments.

COSA will bring together key experts from development agencies, the public sector, and academia to formulate 40 key sector assessment indicators. The indicators will be practical, diagnostic, easy to understand and implement, and combine global best practice with local expertise.

New Commodities
Expanding to new commodities

Together with the International Cotton Advisory Committee’s Social Environmental and Economic Performance team, the Textile Exchange, the Natural Resources Institute, S&D and Bonsucro, we have begun expanding our work to cotton, tea, and sugar in order to tailor the tools that companies and organizations use for these important commodities.

Finally, we will combine our learning and experience together with our partner the Inter-American Development Bank’s Sustainable Agriculture, Food and Environment (SAFE) program, to advance work that helps 150,000 smallholders in Latin America face the challenges of sustainable production.

As we build, expand, and apply our work over the coming year, one element remains constant. The COSA consortium would not exist without the countless partners, funders, staff, and friends whose daily support makes the work possible.

Thank you,

Daniele Signature

Daniele Giovannucci

2016 Annual Letter: Highlight

Building sustainable supply chains

2015 marked the first global implementation of COSA’s responsible sourcing system. Designed to give users real-time data on their sustainability projects and investments, it creates supply chain transparency across stakeholders. COSA’s multi-dimensional indicators are the cornerstone of this approach.

Created in partnership with a panel of experts and calibrated to international norms, indicators provide a common metric to consistently measure the key social, economic, and environmental aspects of sustainability.

Leveraging these indicators, the system is built on three inter-locking pieces:


Taken together, these complementary tools integrate data from across a project’s life cycle to help companies and organizations grow their sustainability impact through a step-by-step approach.

5 step Advisory

COSA first seeks to understand the sustainability of an organization, project or supply chain profile. With that understanding, we are able design a customized approach which includes support and a suite of tools that include mechanisms for standardizing data, monitoring performance, and measuring impact to build and optimize a company’s sustainability. For supply chains, the ultimate goal is a fully traceable, responsibly sourced supply chain that is verified by a 3rd party.

Responsible Sourcing System

For companies whose success depends on access to agricultural products, the sustainability of their supply chains is a daily concern. For Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE), COSA implemented a responsible sourcing system across six supply chains in Ethiopia, Honduras, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

JDE image

Representing over 50,000 farmers, the system measures social, environmental, and economic factors of sustainability in a standardized way. It features integrated data collection and reporting tools that are globally consistent and allows JDE executives to embed real-time data into their decision-making. 

“Our work is expanding to new areas and wider audiences across the sustainability landscape.”

Influencing Policy

Since their inception, sustainability standards and certifications have been an important tool for engaging consumers on the social, environmental, and safety components of products and the organizations which create them.

Standards Platform sample imageWith more than 500 standards already in place and a growing set added each year, there is a pressing need for data which measures standards’ performance and a publicly-available mechanism to share learning across commodities.

In early 2016, with support from the Swiss Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), COSA partnered with the International Trade Center to launch an interactive platform which features data from major standards and certifications including Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance.

Designed to be modular, more certifications, field work, and data will be added in a phased approach to better understand the standards themselves and their ability to impact poverty and smallholder livelihoods.

Baseline Assessment

Given the increasing pressure that standards systems are under to demonstrate their impact on the ground, COSA was commissioned by the ISEAL Alliance to conduct a baseline assessment in Kenya to determine whether certification improves the livelihoods of some of the world’s poorest coffee farmers. The end line impact assessment is planned for release in 2018.

Contribution Analysis note

“We participate in sectoral, industry, development and policy events to share lessons learned.”

2016 Annual Letter: Highlight

Sharing best practices

As part of its mandate to promote thought leadership in agricultural sustainability, COSA brings together stakeholders and creates publications to share best practices.


Most recently, in June 2016, with the generous support of the Swiss Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) and Chocosuisse, COSA participated and helped lead a one-day workshop, Building More Sustainable Cocoa Supply Chains: Why Good Measurement Matters, which brought together the key actors in the Swiss cocoa and chocolate industries to explore how rigorous measurement systems can be put into place to enhance current sustainability initiatives in cocoa.

To enhance our private and public sector work, COSA staff participate in sectoral, industry, development and policy events to share lessons learned with diverse stakeholder groups.

Events where COSA attended and gave presentations include:

Oct Trade for Sustainable Development Forum
SAI Farm Sustainability Assessment Stakeholder Meeting
International Women’s Coffee Alliance
Nov International Cotton Advisory Committee Meeting
ISEAL Alliance Workshop
Feb Sustainable Food Lab Performance Measurement Conference
April Specialty Coffee Association of America Annual Meeting
May Mesoamerican Workshop on Bio-labeling and Certification
World Cocoa Conference
ISEAL Global Sustainability Standards Conference
IDB Proadapt Conference on Climate Change Adaptation
June Specialty Coffee Association of Europe Conference
July Government of Mexico Cumbre del Café



Each year, COSA is asked to contribute to numerous policy pieces and a diverse array of academic work to progress research in sustainable agriculture. Publications currently underway include work on:

Certifications Meta-analysis of impact assessments on sustainability certifications (2010-2017)
An examination of Voluntary Sustainability Standards in coffee and cocoa production in Tanzania and Côte d’Ivoire
Colombian Panel Data: Measuring the effect of different types of certifications on net income, yield, and farm-level production costs
United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards (Flagship) Annual Report
Cooperatives Comparing the impact of cooperatives in Indonesia and Vietnam on poverty reduction
Comparing Producer Organization Theories of Change; a literature review
Coffee Farm-level impact of coffee rust in Guatemala: 2012-2015
Shared value and collective impact frameworks for the coffee supply chain
Resilience Resilience; a literature review
Technology Adoption Drivers and constraints of Technology Adoption


SEE Sustainability