Learning from COSA and partners for growing your sustainability knowledge.
Having reliable, ongoing, and timely field data from development projects or supply chains is a perennial challenge for decision makers. A series of innovations that we refer to as Agile Data are opening new frontiers of timeliness, cost, and accuracy. Published in the open source journal Sustainability, this paper is a collaboration between COSA and its partners for piloting Agile Data tools and methods, International Center for Evaluation and Development (ICED) and GDi Partners (GDi).
Success with market-based sustainability efforts depends on how you integrate them into your operations.
As more businesses and organizations adopt market-based instruments for sustainability, what do we know about making them successful? Working with hundreds of companies and organizations over the last two decades, we have distilled five important skills that are part of successful programs.
The UK Department for International Development (DFID) selected COSA as one of 24 data monitoring initiatives relating to agriculture that were reviewed (out of 103 monitoring initiatives identified) with respect to their degree of achievement in meeting a set of 34 criteria. Among the notable COSA system merits cited by the report:
- “Only one initiative (COSA) included different treatments and conventional farms (as counterfactuals) in their sampling frame.”
- “Only six of the twenty-four initiatives have been designed to support decisions, of which only some decisions are specific, e.g. investment decisions supported by COSA”
- “There was a lack of clarity on data sharing arrangements in all but one agro-ecosystem initiative (COSA) and one livelihood initiative (LSMS-ISA), which both make their data publicly available.”
COSA and the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT) collaborated on this publication prepared for the Living Income Community of Practice that focuses on how to calculate and interpret key indicators of the gap between actual income and a Living Income Benchmark, and how to visualize key indicators of the gap to a Living Income Benchmark.
This COSA – Royal Tropical Institute (KIT) guidance document, prepared for the Living Income Community of Practice, covers how to conduct the measurement and calculations of total household income and the calculations of Living Income. The measure of Living Income is similar to a poverty assessment but goes further taking into account the notion of decency.
The goal of this end line study was to understand the contribution that certification systems can make to poverty alleviation and pro-poor development. ISEAL Alliance engaged the Committee on Sustainability Assessment to rigorously assess the early impacts of the Fairtrade and UTZ certification processes on small coffee farmers in the Mount Elgon region of Kenya.
Although the region is reportedly emerging as Kenya’s next “coffee belt”, it is still one of the poorest in the country and has limited experience with standards and certification. Using an innovative mixed-methods approach, the study looked at farmers in three cooperatives, segregating farmers by poverty level to reveal new insights.
Listen to the podcast of researcher and author Carlos de los Rios discuss the final research report.
How Green is your Tea? – Benefits of Shared Indicators
A common language of measuring tea sustainability improves our ability to understand and effect change in this sector. Building on the best current work in tea, International Experts convened by COSA and the Ethical Tea Partnership accomplished an important first step toward this by creating a comprehensive core set of tea indicators. This article summarizes the work of the Experts and provides insights on the linkages between tea sustainability issues and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Written by: Elena Serfilippi, Daniele Giovannucci and Sarah Mohan
Intelligent rural investments or operations with sustainable practices require a good understanding of the influential factors as well as historic lessons from decades of development literature. This simple review is very accessible for a non-expert and charts the path to the multi-dimensionality of today’s Sustainable Development Goals through a fifty-year retrospective of key moments in development history.
COSA’s Carlos de los Rios and Mica Bennett contributed to a publication in the Journal of Rural Studies that focused on sustainably improving Kenya’s coffee production.
Kenya’s Arabica coffee is highly rated in the world and is a major source of income for over half a million smallholder farmers. Production has declined by 50% over the past 25 years despite efforts by initiatives. This study tries to answer what drives coffee production in Kenya. Read the abstract to this journal publication.
In this third issue brief, we present insights gathered by testing COSA’s resilience measurement approach that highlights its usefulness and adaptability with varying projects with different aims and scales, from impact to hot spots and performance monitoring assessments.
One of the key sustainability challenges today lies in establishing precise and practical ways to measure resilience. A better understanding of resilience can help ensure a long-term sustainable development pathway. This issue brief is part of a series of articles from COSA on resilience measurement. In this second brief, we present COSA’s resilience measurement system, starting with an analysis of its similarities and differences with common sustainability measurement.
“An Introduction to Assessing Climate Resilience in Smallholder Supply Chains,” was recently released by the USAID as part of the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative focused on global hunger and food security. COSA’s work in resilience measurement, indicators, and framework helped shape the field guide.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) D-Lab recently released best practices in research. This innovative Lean Research Field Guide captures useful insights from around the world. COSA, as part of the working group that included Sustainable Food Lab and others, contributed a number of unique experiences to help researchers advance sustainability in the most effective manner.
COSA has long recognized that thoughtful approaches are necessary for surveying farmers and rural communities. This MIT D-Lab’s Lean Research learning community is promoting better research practices that place the farmer-participants at the center of a study’s design and implementation. Thoughtful, lean research not only benefits the people and communities being researched but also provides more useful information for projects or researchers that want to learn about sustainability.
“How we conduct research, monitoring and evaluation matters. Data collection is an intervention into the lives of research participants – an intervention that in itself can generate positive or negative outcomes. In addition, the power dynamics between researchers and those researched affect not only the participant’s experience, but also the outcomes of the research.”
— Lean Research Field Guide: A rigorous, respectful, relevant, and right-sized alternative.
Other members of the working group include the Fletcher School at Tufts University, the William Davidson Institute, Rikolto, and Root Capital.
Empowering Farmers through Producer Organizations: Technologies to understand how Producer Organizations influence equitable farmer sustainability
Nearly one-seventh of the world’s population who depend on farming for their livelihoods are among the most vulnerable workers or families anywhere. On their own or in their communities, they have little leverage and suffer significant inequities. Yet when aided by producer organizations, with their expertise, access to markets and collective negotiating power, individual farmers stand a good chance to reduce the imbalances and general inequality they typically face.
Written by: Committee on Sustainability Assessment
Resilience is a prerequisite to ensure long term sustainability. All resilience programming should therefore incorporate normative sustainable thinking based on the analysis of the relations between resilience and sustainability.
Simpler Resilience Measurement: Tools to Diagnose and Improve How Households Fare in Difficult Circumstances from Conflict to Climate Change
We are certain that resilience is a key factor to address poverty and inequality and yet work on this topic is currently severely hindered because it is very costly and requires substantial expertise. With the support of the Ford Foundation, we undertook to build on the best of current practices but in a fundamentally new way by streamlining and creating more pragmatic options to understand resilience.
Written by: Elena Serfilippi and Daniele Giovannucci
Supporting Team: Carlos De Los Rios
Design: Audra Wilson-Max
Editor: Louise Salinas and Meg Weaver
Thanks in part to a Ford Foundation grant, COSA’s Elena Serfilippi and Gayatri Ramnath brought clarity to the lack of consensus and consistency surrounding resilience programs in the development community. published in The Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics, evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of several existing measurement tools, provides development practitioners a standardized resilience model including indicators
Swiss researchers ranked COSA as a top approach for measuring sustainability at the farm-level.
Syrian people, since 2012, are suffering of the upset of the civil war. The conflict is heavily
affecting agriculture (FAO and WFP 2016)1, and the activities of thousands of farms, traditionally
an important source of food and economic support at the local and national level.
Reflections from the Field provides insight into the practicalities and value of Contribution Analysis for small n impact assessments by drawing on lessons learned and challenges faced during a real-world evaluation.
This working paper is a joint initiative by the ISEAL Alliance, Sustainable Food Lab, and COSA to align various metric protocols and guidance on farm economics. The paper is not a new set of metrics but rather a guidance document for reporting data on commonly accepted farm economic metrics.
The 2nd Flagship Report of UNFSS seeks to further dissect the interplay between VSS and public governance processes by striving to answer the following question: What are the optimal dynamics between public policy processes and voluntary sustainability standards to ensure sustainability objectives are most effectively met?
In Chapter I, the report delineates how VSS can optimally contribute towards more sustainable patterns of development. In particular, it explores how governments can effectively support or engage with VSS in a way that advances the SDGs and the ways in which public sector engagement in VSS needs to be expanded or strengthened. Chapter II – COSA’s contribution – presents reflective commentaries of VSS experts on these questions.
This paper unveils new methodological advancements that will contribute to improving how to assess the impact of sustainability initiatives. The work is a part of the ‘Demonstrating and Improving Poverty Impacts’ initiative, made possible by the Ford Foundation.
COSA and its partner, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) created a baseline for understanding how coffee farmers in Kenya are affected by multiple certification and training initiatives. The work leveraged qualitative and quantitative elements to conduct contribution analysis with a difference in differences design.
This shared approach represents an unique alignment on a common core set of simple indicators for measuring farm sustainability; they are based mostly on COSA indicators and were refined within a community of practice with leading standards organizations, agri-food companies, NGOs, and development agencies. While useful for impact evaluation, these indicators are proposed primarily for performance monitoring. By using the same indicators when asking the same types of questions we can increase comparability of data in different projects or data collection efforts. This makes data more useful and facilitates learning by building a common understanding.
This learning community includes Committee on Sustainability Assessment (COSA), the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labeling Alliance (ISEAL), The IDH Sustainable Trade Initiative, Rainforest Alliance, the Ford Foundation, the Center for Development Innovation at Wageningen (CDI), Nestlé, Root Capital, Mars Inc., and was facilitated by the Sustainable Food Lab with funding from the Ford Foundation and the IDH Sustainable Trade Initiative.
The Committee on Sustainability Assessment (COSA) has released a synthesis of its review of poverty assessment tools including those of IFAD, CGAP, IRIS/USAID, the Oxford Multidimensional Poverty Index, and Grameen’s Progress out of Poverty Index (PPI). The PPI was pilot tested in 4 programs with nearly 2500 farm households as part of COSA’s interest in a practical and widely-applicable poverty assessment tool that could complement its own suite of assessment tools for producers in developing countries.
COSA began looking for an complementary approach to assessing poverty. With support from the Ford Foundation, COSA evaluated a number of poverty measurement tools that could be integrated into its surveys and then correlated outcomes with more traditional measures of financial well-being. Because of the PPI’s transparency, wide acceptance, and ability to relate financial condition to national and global poverty line, COSA decided to pilot the PPI.
The State of Sustainability Initiatives Review 2014 provides a bird’s-eye view of market and performance trends across 16 of the most prevalent standards initiatives operating across ten different commodity sectors. The Review represents one small effort toward strengthening our understanding of how voluntary sustainability standards are developing over time, both in terms of the systems they deploy and the market impacts that they have.
Author: International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)
As part of COSA’s ongoing multi-lateral collaboration representatives from the Sustainable Food Lab, COSA, and the ISEAL Alliance came together to co-author Partnering for Increased Learning in Smallholder Supply Chains.
Aiming to improve the learning and effectiveness made possible with measurement frameworks that monitor the sustainability of smallholder farming systems, the paper explains the commonalities and distinctions among each organizations’ approach to sustainability indicators and assessment.
Many consumers value goods produced in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. As a result, welfare gains are possible from credible third-party certifications, like Fair Trade, that provide consumers with information about the production process.
Raluca Dragusanu and Nathan Nunn (Harvard University) and COSA President Daniele Giovannucci provide a critical overview of the economic theory behind Fair Trade. The paper, published in the prestigious Journal of Economic Perspectives and by the US National Bureau of Economic Research describes the potential benefits and pitfalls and offers an assessment of the current empirical evidence of the impacts of Fair Trade.
Sustainability standards have seen rapid growth in tropical agricultural commodities such as cocoa, coffee, palm oil, soybeans, and tea. One recent scientific paper notes, perhaps not surprisingly, that the most popular sustainability standards are those that can relax their requirements and reduce their costs. But what is the effect of such popularity?
To explore what we can do to increase the environmental results of these sustainability standards, COSA’s president Daniele Giovannucci joined Brian Milder and an esteemed group of researchers and scientists in compiling the “Agenda for assessing and improving conservation impacts of sustainability standards in tropical Agriculture”, recently published in the Conservation Biology journal.
An Agenda for Assessing and Improving Conservation Impacts of Sustainability Standards in Tropical Agriculture
Sustainability standards have seen rapid growth. Given their role in influencing land use, particularly in environments with great biodiversity and deforestation, much can be learned from efforts to evaluate and increase conservation payoff.
This paper provides a systematic approach for monitoring and evaluating the conservation impacts of agricultural sustainability standards and for using the resulting evidence to improve the effectiveness of such standards over time.
As part of an ongoing global effort to document and understand optimal sustainability approaches, COSA collaborated with a Wageningen University-led initiative to create policy briefs for the Dutch Government. We also contributed our experience and meta-analysis of the effects of voluntary standards toward achieving sustainability to inform a recent review of their global Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) by the Government of the Netherlands Review of the Sustainable Trade Initiative IDH 2008-2013.
Riding the Wave of Sustainable Commodity Sourcing: Review of the Sustainable Trade Initiative IDH 2008-2013
The Sustainable Trade Initiative IDH is an initiative of the Dutch government, private companies, NGOs and trade unions to improve the economic, social and environmental sustainability of production systems in developing countries. The initiative focuses primarily on internationally traded commodities like cotton, coffee, tea, cocoa, timber and fish.
The report reviews progress made by IDH in the first six years of its existence.
El Comité de Evaluación de la Sostenibilidad (COSA por sus siglas en inglés) es un consorcio mundial neutral
cuya misión es acelerar la sostenibilidad en la agricultura a través de asociaciones e instrumentos de
evaluación que permitan mejorar la comprensión de los impactos sociales, económicos y ambientales. COSA
asesora y trabaja en conjunto con importantes instituciones y empresas líderes en el mundo para acelerar el
uso de mediciones confi ables y la gestión efi caz de los esfuerzos de sostenibilidad.
The Committee on Sustainability Assessment (COSA), joined by leading global firms and development agencies, launches its landmark “The COSA Measuring Sustainability Report”. The report illuminates the salient findings from nearly 18,000 surveys between 2009 to 2013 in Africa, Asia and Latin America for coffee and cocoa – two important commodities that are bellwethers for sustainability trends in other crops.
The COSA Measuring Sustainability Report is a result of COSA’s seven year journey to evolve a common set of practical indicators and metrics in collaboration with many organizations and experts. It presents a compelling combination of surprising findings, unexpected results, and lessons learned.
The five UN agencies comprising the United Nations forum on sustainability standards (UNFSS) supported this work as “most comprehensive review to date of… impact research on popular sustainability standards” exploring “how sustainability initiatives actually affect farmers, communities and the environment in low and middle-income countries
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is becoming a standard feature particularly for large and consumer-oriented firms. What started in the late 1960s as something closer to charity or philanthropy has evolved dramatically in recent years. Yet, as actualisation of the CSR concept is increasingly explored and becoming better defined, there is limited understanding of how to operationalise CSR and how to manage it for desirable results at the ground level.
On our current trajectory, severe disruptions to national and regional food systems are highly likely to happen – the main question is when. Exposing unforeseen areas of consensus – with contributions from more than 70 global agri-food leaders in the business, policy, green, and social arenas – the report lays out concrete steps for sustainable and resilient food and agriculture systems. By opening the silos of partisan thinking to invite reasoned discussion, it also exposes areas of disagreement and advances a key set of specific “high impact” areas where smart decisions will make the most difference.
COSA partners IISD, CATIE, INCAE/(CIMS) and CIRAD completed the application of COSA in 5 countries. Dozens of farms applying various sustainability initiatives were tested in Costa Rica, Honduras, Kenya, Nicaragua and Peru. The lessons learned are being incorporated into the current Methodology so that COSA is even more adaptable to diverse field and farm conditions.
The ability to apply COSA as a management tool that assesses the impacts of sustainability efforts is becoming a valuable asset and is being incorporated into several sustainability initiatives themselves as they seek improved ways to measure and monitor their efforts.