Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems

Research Paper

Effects of Fair Trade and organic certifications on small-scale coffee farmer households in Central America and Mexico

V. Ernesto Méndeza1 c1, Christopher M. Bacona2, Meryl Olsona3, Seth Petchersa4, Doribel Herradora5, Cecilia Carranzaa6, Laura Trujilloa7, Carlos Guadarrama-Zugastia7, Antonio Cordóna8 and Angel Mendozaa8

a1 Environmental Program and Department of Plant and Soil Science, The University of Vermont, 153 So. Prospect St., Burlington, VT 05401, USA

a2 Department of Geography, 513 McCone Hall, University of California-Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-4740, USA

a3 Department of Plant and Soil Science, Hills Agricultural Bldg, 105 Carrigan Drive, The University of Vermont, Burlington, VT 05405, USA

a4 1 South Ivy Street, Denver, CO 80224, USA

a5 University of Barcelona, Calle Balmes 17-2a-2, Terrassa 08225, Barcelona, Spain

a6 Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, Unidad de Planificación—Area de Economía Ambiental, Carretera a Santa Tecla Km. 5 1/2, Calle y Colonia Las Mercedes, Edificio MARN, San Salvador, El Salvador

a7 Universidad Autonoma de Chapingo, CRUO, Km. 3 Carretera Huatusco-Jalapa, Huatusco, Veracruz, Mexico

a8 Asociación CRECER, 20 Calle 14-19 zona 10, Guatemala Ciudad, Guatemala


We provide a review of sustainable coffee certifications and results from a quantitative analysis of the effects of Fair Trade, organic and combined Fair Trade/organic certifications on the livelihood strategies of 469 households and 18 cooperatives of Central America and Mexico. Certified households were also compared with a non-certified group in each country. To analyze the differences in coffee price, volume, gross revenue and education between certifications, we used the Kruskal–Wallis (K–W) non-parametric test and the Mann–Whitney U non-parametric test as a post-hoc procedure. Household savings, credit, food security and incidence of migration were analyzed through Pearson's chi-square test. Our study corroborated the conditions of economic poverty among small-scale coffee farmer households in Central America and Mexico. All certifications provided a higher price per pound and higher gross coffee revenue than non-certified coffee. However, the average volumes of coffee sold by individual households were low, and many certified farmers did not sell their entire production at certified prices. Certifications did not have a discernable effect on other livelihood-related variables, such as education, and incidence of migration at the household level, although they had a positive influence on savings and credit. Sales to certified markets offer farmers and cooperatives better prices, but the contribution derived from these premiums has limited effects on household livelihoods. This demonstrates that certifications will not single-handedly bring significant poverty alleviation to most coffee-farming families. Although certified coffee markets alone will not resolve the livelihood challenges faced by smallholder households, they could still contribute to broad-based sustainable livelihoods, rural development and conservation processes in coffee regions. This can be done by developing more active partnerships between farmers, cooperatives, certifications and environmental and rural development organizations and researchers in coffee regions. Certifications, especially Fair Trade/organic, have proven effective in supporting capacity building and in serving as networks that leverage global development funding for small-scale coffee-producing households.

(Accepted April 13 2010)

(Online publication June 04 2010)

Key Words:

  • farmer cooperatives;
  • political ecology;
  • rural livelihoods;
  • coffee crisis;
  • alternative markets;
  • sustainable coffee


c1 Corresponding author: