Private standards unfolded: The perspectives of coffee farmers in Northern Nicaragua

María Virginia Dundas Hvidesten & Marta Maireles González

Student thesis: Master thesis


Given the increasing regulatory importance of Private Standards (PSs) in the coffee chain, it is essential to understand how PS regulation is perceived by local farmers and their implications in terms of whether PSs contribute to the improvement of farmers‘ livelihoods and to a better integration into global markets. This master thesis has thus sought to address these issues by focusing on the perceptions of small, medium and large-scale farmers in Northern Nicaragua, a region that relies largely on coffee exports and where the livelihoods of the majority of the population is dependent on such crop. In particular, we have sought to explore and understand (1) why farmers decide to adopt (not to adopt) PSs, and (2) their perceptions on how the following PSs, FLO, Rainforest Alliance, UTZ, C.A.F.E, Organic and 4C, contribute to profitability, better access to markets and to improved working and environmental conditions at the farm. In order to explore and understand the above mentioned issues we have conducted a case study following a qualitative and learning approach to impact assessment. This approach relies on multiple sources of data and triangulation and aims at understanding rather than measuring impacts. Findings regarding the reasons why coffee farmers adopt (not adopt) PSs show that while buyers, exporters, collective organizations and Donor‘s aid projects have been the initial drivers, it is farmers‘ attitudes the defining driver for adoption. In relation to small and medium-scale farmers, expectations regarding higher prices, profitability and market access do not seem to have been met. However, farmers perceive that PS implementation has brought about considerable reduction in pollution levels and other efficiency enhancing processes. Large-scale farmers perceive that PSs may bring about higher profitability levels as long as they serve as the initial basis for long-term direct relations with buyers. This, in turn, reduces dependency on ―C‖ stock prices and guarantees a market over time. Attribution problems have arisen due to the complex geography of actors, variables and relations (e.g. Donors, collective organizations, management style) playing a role in bringing about social and environmental change. This thesis concludes that while PSs can certify that coffee is grown in line with social and environmental standards, they cannot certify that coffee farmers‘ participation in global value chains will be strengthened and that they will receive higher economic returns.

EducationsMSc in Business, Language and Culture, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2010
Number of pages172