Where are commodity crops certified, and what does it mean for conservation and poverty alleviation?

Catherine Tayleur, Andrew Balmford, Graeme M. Buchanan, Stuart H.m. Butchart, Christine Corlet Walker, Heather Ducharme, Rhys E. Green, Jeffrey C. Milder, Fiona J. Sanderson, David H.l. Thomas, Lukasz Tracewski, Juliet Vickery, Ben Phalan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Voluntary sustainability standards have expanded dramatically over the last decade. In the agricultural sector, such standards aim to ensure environmentally and socially sustainable production of a variety of commodity crops. However, little is known about where agricultural certification operates and whether certified lands are best located for conserving the world's most important biodiversity and benefiting the most vulnerable producers. To examine these questions we developed the first global map of commodity crop certification, synthesizing data from over one million farms to reveal the distribution of certification in unprecedented detail. It highlights both geographical clusters of certification as well as spatial bias in the location of certification with respect to environmental, livelihood and physical variables. Excluding organic certification, for which spatial data were not available, most certification of commodity crops is in tropical regions. Certification appears to be concentrated in areas important for biodiversity conservation, but not in those areas most in need of poverty alleviation, although there were exceptions to each of these patterns. We argue that the impact of sustainability standards could be increased by identifying places where it would be most beneficial to strengthen, consolidate, and expand certification. To achieve this, standards organizations will need to undertake more rigorous collection of spatial data, and more detailed analysis of their existing reach and impacts, with attention to potential trade-offs between different objectives. Efforts to promote spatial prioritization will require new partnerships to align specific conservation aims with the interests and capabilities of farmers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-46
Number of pages11
JournalBiological Conservation
Early online date29 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018

Bibliographical note

© 2017, Elsevier. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

Funding: Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI) Collaborative Fund (CCI 05-13-003) and Arcadia. CT was partly funded by CCI and a NERC Impact Acceleration Knowledge Exchange Award.


  • Agricultural certification;
  • Voluntary sustainability standards;
  • Tropical commodities;
  • Eco-labeling;
  • Governance
  • Fair trade


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