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Profits and poverty: Certification's troubled link for Nicaragua's organic and fairtrade coffee producers


  • Beuchelt, Tina D.
  • Zeller, Manfred


Governments, donors and NGOs have promoted environmental and social certification schemes for coffee producers as certified market channels are assumed to offer higher prices and better incomes. Additionally, it is presumed that these certifications contribute to poverty reduction of smallholders. Yet, gross margins, profits and poverty levels of certified smallholder coffee producers have not yet been quantitatively analyzed applying random sampling techniques. Our quantitative household survey of 327 randomly selected members of conventional, organic and organic-fairtrade certified cooperatives in Nicaragua is complemented by over a hundred qualitative in-depth interviews. The results show that although farm-gate prices of certified coffees are higher than of conventional coffees, the profitability of certified coffee production and its subsequent effect on poverty levels is not clear-cut. Per capita net coffee incomes are insufficient to cover basic needs of all coffee producing households. Certified producers are more often found below the absolute poverty line than conventional producers. Over a period of ten years, our analysis shows that organic and organic-fairtrade farmers have become poorer relative to conventional producers. We conclude that coffee yield levels, profitability and efficiency need to be increased, because prices for certified coffee cannot compensate for low productivity, land or labor constraints.

Suggested Citation

  • Beuchelt, Tina D. & Zeller, Manfred, 2011. "Profits and poverty: Certification's troubled link for Nicaragua's organic and fairtrade coffee producers," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(7), pages 1316-1324, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:70:y:2011:i:7:p:1316-1324

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    References listed on IDEAS

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