Questions about COSA? We’ve got answers.
The Committee on Sustainability Assessment (COSA™) is a global consortium of institutions fostering effective ways to measure and understand sustainability in the agri-food sector. COSA has developed a transparent meta-tool (common framework and indicators) to understand the costs and benefits of sustainability in a globally consistent and scientific manner.
In 2012, COSA became an independent non-profit organization, registered with 501c3 status in the United States.
COSA measurement tools provide a scientifically-based understanding of what is and is not sustainable in agriculture.
- Development of a globally consistent and scientifically rigorous methodology
- Collection of data from commodity-producing farms around the world
- Development of decision-making tool for use by farmer groups
- Building institutional capacity with partners to collect high-quality data on sustainability in their region
- Creation of a database for global dissemination of this information with the U.N.’s International Trade Centre
- Facilitation of policy dialogue and successful investment in sustainability based on findings
COSA is unique in that it is not an ad hoc collection of measures or indicators; it is a comprehensive system developed from an extensive participatory process with farmers, scientists, private sector, and NGOs.
COSA will be the repository of the world’s most extensive and publically available collection of empirical data on the topic of sustainable agriculture with the United Nations’ International Trade Centre, FAO, Ford Foundation the Inter American Development Bank and many corporations.
COSA maintains a flexible array of tools that can be adapted as needs dictate. Its standard toolkit includes five unique components:
- Globally comparable indicators and tested field surveys
- Electronic data gathering with COSATouch quality control
- Data management via a dedicated and searchable database
- Useful analysis and impact assessment using rigorous methods and the flexibility of multiple integrated tools.
- Managerial tools for monitoring and evaluating sustainability within an organization
COSA survey and analysis methods align with the current scientific understanding of best practice in impact assessment but also introduces some comprehensive innovations in the form of its multi-dimensional indicators and data gathering tools. It gathers data directly from farmers, producer organizations, and communities and employs both quantitative and qualitative approaches. COSA applies rigorous practices to determine representative and relatively unbiased samples including control groups. This is also reflected in survey designs that while consistent can also be adapted to particular needs or situations so as to capture local realities while also balancing the requisite quality with reasonable costs. To reduce error and more faithfully capture the realities of human and agricultural systems COSA prefers to assess multiple observations – not just a single snapshot view. COSA’ s approach is well suited to various forms of multi-criteria analysis and it conducts these in collaboration with local and international scientists to ensure the highest level of credibility and usefulness.
An institution or organization with an ongoing commitment to advancing the understanding of sustainability that has signed either a Memorandum of Understanding to formally collaborate or a contract to conduct ongoing research with COSA.
First, the public and transparent nature of COSA allows for constant input, review, and improvement. Its indicators have been benchmarked to dozens of internationally accepted normative references such as those of the World Health Organization or the International Labor Organization. Its survey and analysis methods align with the current scientific understanding of good practice in impact assessment. COSA Research Partners are widely respected as leading scientific institutions in their countries.
Finally, the COSA Scientific Committee includes some of the world’s most noted scientists and experts.
COSA receives grant funding from foundations and institutions whose mission is to invest in development and sustainability. COSA is also hired by organizations with financial, environmental, and/or social reasons to measure the sustainability of their efforts.
COSA is designed for all agricultural commodities but has first been developed for coffee and cocoa with upcoming plans for cotton, tea, and other crops.
COSA has done or is doing work in Columbia, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Tanzania and Vietnam. Our core administrative team work all around the world, with a home office in Pennsylvania, USA.
While many of our indicators are globally applicable and would work for the US or Europe, COSA’s primary commitment is to measure sustainability in areas of the world where little data exists or such information is much more difficult to get. As such, it is in developing countries where our work has greater effect and where even small gains in knowledge of the environmental, social and economic aspects of sustainability can substantially impact farmer livelihoods in fundamental ways.
COSA will house the largest independent collection of agricultural sustainability data in the world, and its mandate is to generate globally comparable information and share that information publicly so that everyone – from farmers to policymakers – can effectively make appropriate choices about sustainability. This database will offer results in formats that are easy to use and publicly available.
As with all kinds of scientific research, the identifying details of the research subjects are confidential.
Completing a field survey takes 1-2 hours with a farmer, and less with buyers and producer organizations. The results can be used immediately for management feedback or project monitoring, but is most effective when measures are taken annually and changes are observed over time.
Having at least 3 years of data offers a much more realistic understanding. COSA strives for systemized and ongoing monitoring and evaluation in the places where it has trained local partners, in order to ensure true movement toward sustainability.
Implementation can be at the farm/enterprise level or the national level and thus it varies considerably. The primary cost control is embedded in COSA’s policy of training local institutional partners. Costs depend primarily on the number of surveys required to achieve a representative sample. The other components are training, quality control in the field, data processing, cleaning, and final analysis. Once COSA is learned and implemented, subsequent measures, even for different crops, are expected to be relatively less expensive and can eventually even be applied independently at a co-op or firm level.
COSA works directly with regional or national partners to increase understanding of sustainability, to build capacity to conduct good measurements, and to integrate COSA principles into ongoing programs.
Its practical application and commitment to local empowerment means that, as COSA expands, it need not be dependent on donor support.
COSA is used by private, non-profit, research and farmer organizations that seek better ways to design, manage, and measure the impacts of sustainable agriculture initiatives. COSA partners with clients to design user centric approaches to impact assessment and performance monitoring in order to improve transparency and accountability.