In yesterday’s post, I suggested that measuring the success of FTUSA’s FT4All coffee innovation pilots could be a complicated affair. The best imaginable scenario, in my mind, is an impact assessment process that is transparent, system-wide, longitudinal and conducted by an independent third party with no skin in the game. Hitting all four of those targets may be a tall order.
- Transparent. From design to implementation to reporting on results, the best impact assessment will be public and participatory, responding to the specific data needs identified by coffee chain actors from origin to the market.
- System-wide. All three coffee production models eligible for certification in the U.S. marketplace — cooperatives, independent smallholder farmers and estates — should be included in any FT4All impact assessment. It is not enough to know that new entrants are benefiting from their participation in the model. We also need to know that coops haven’t been hurt commercially in the process. FT4All can’t rob Peter to pay Paul. If the innovations in the Fair Trade system just shift Fair Trade supply from coops to other, non-cooperative production models, their net development impacts will likely be negative.
- Independent. An independent third party whose own fortunes are not directly tied up with the success or failure of the pilots may be better positioned for credibly assessing the impacts of the pilots than FTUSA.
- Longitudinal. While the best point of comparison for an independent smallholder farmer in a Fair Trade for All pilot may be her neighbor, the ideal assessment would compare her with her neighbor over a period of years on a small number of key livelihood indicators. This may be the most difficult of these four characteristics to achieve. Longitudinal studies, by definition, take time — likely more than coffee brands can afford given the market pressure for them to decide which approach to Fair Trade Certification suits them best.