Coffee is generally grown in areas derived from forest, and both its expansion and management cause biodiversity loss. Sustainability standards in coffee are well established but have been criticized while social and environmental impact is elusive. This paper assesses the issue-attention cycle of coffee production in India and Nicaragua, including producer concerns and responses over time to concerns (sustainability standards, public regulations and development projects). Systematic comparison of the socioeconomic, environmental and policy context in both countries is then used to explore potential effects of sustainability standards. Results show limits, in local context, to relevance of global certification approaches: in both countries due to naturally high levels of biodiversity within coffee production systems global standards are easily met. They do not provide recognition for the swing potential (difference between best and worst) and do not raise the bar of environmental outcomes though nationally biodiversity declines. Nicaraguan regulations have focused on the socioeconomic development of the coffee sector via strengthening producer organizations, while India prioritized environmental and biodiversity conservation. In India, externally driven sustainability standards partially replace the existing producer–buyer relationship while in Nicaragua standards are desired by producer organizations. The temporal comparison shows that recently local stakeholders harness improvements through their unique local value propositions: the ‘small producer’ symbol in Nicaragua and certification of geographic origin in India. Nicaragua builds on the strength of its smallholder sector while India builds on its strength of being home to a global biodiversity hotspot.
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Mithöfer D, Méndez VE, Bose A, Vaast P. Harnessing local strength for sustainable coffee value chains in India and Nicaragua: Reevaluating certification to global sustainability standards. International Journal of Biodiversity Science, Ecosystem Services & Management. 2017 Jan 1;13(1):471-96.