Collectively Increasing Sustainability in Coffee and Oil Palm Supply Chains
Blog by: Joel Brounen, Country Manager and María Cristina Rivera, Marketing and Communications manager – Solidaridad Colombia
Colombia is one of the leading exporting countries of coffee in the world. It is well known abroad as a frontrunner in sustainability and quality. The country is also the biggest palm oil exporter in Latin America. In recent years it is gaining more and more recognition as an origin of sustainable palm oil, taking advantage of its natural conditions to expand its production without deforestation. In a country with huge potential to become one of the global leaders in the production of and trade in sustainable agro-commodities, there are still numerous social and environmental challenges. Not all stakeholders involved in the supply chain agree about how to tackle these sustainability issues. What are proven strategies to align a sector around a common goal and take joint action?
Sustainable Trade Platform in Colombia
The Sustainable Trade Platform in Colombia is a public and private alliance that works to increase the sustainability of the coffee and palm oil production and to promote Colombia´s leadership in sustainable agriculture worldwide. It was established in 2013 and has pursued a set of ambitious goals.
In order to accomplish these goals, the Platform envisaged its work on three lines of action:
- supporting producers in establishing good agricultural practices (both labour and environmental
- Securing access to markets and alignment of international certifications and
- Facilitating climate-resilient crop management.
Outlining success factors
The Platform’s success to date is due in large part to the collaboration of more than 90 organizations, including producers, exporters, certifiers, governments and civil society. One of the first achievements was the integration of these sectors to fulfil a common agreement: the need for more sustainable production and trade.
To put it in numbers, between 2013 and 2018 the share of certified sustainable production in Colombia grew significantly both in coffee (40% to 67%), and in palm oil (3% to 14%).
Abovementioned figures reflect the initial targets versus the results delivered by the members of the Sustainable Trade Platform. Beyond these numbers, there is more impact create, such as the formalization of the jobs, avoided deforestation and gender equity.
In order to learn from this initiative and evaluate the replicability of the results, it is important to look at the critical conditions that must be in place to be able to create collective impact.
Building the case for a “collective impact” in agricultural value chains
Sector changes do not happen as a result of the actions of one isolated player. The collective impact is understood as the collaboration between different actors (public, private, civil society, multilaterals) to tackle social and environmental challenges that a single organization cannot solve by itself.
As stated by John Kania and Mark Kramer in an essay published by the Stanford Social Innovation Review: “successful collective impact initiatives typically have five conditions that together produce true alignment and lead to powerful results: a common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support organizations.”
How Sustainable Trade Platform promotes sustainability in agricultural value chains:
- Common agenda: The 90 members of the Sustainable Trade Platform have worked together to identify shared priorities and set common agendas. These priorities and agendas have been materialized in the signature of consensus documents such as the annual work plan and multi-year sectoral agreements. Although there may be differences in the pathway to achieve the objectives or the level of engagement of the members, it can be assured that the participants have agreed on the overarching goals of the platform: To increase the sustainable production as a way to improve the competitiveness and sustainability of the sector as a whole.
- Shared Measurement Systems: Solidaridad, as a backbone organization, compiled the most important information, supplied by the members, in order to consolidate and disseminate public annual reports that include aggregated figures, goals, developments and challenges.
- Mutually Reinforcing Activities: Each member of the Platform plays a different role based on its particular organizational approach, capacities or specialization. Deliverables of mutually reinforcing activities are for example training materials for producers and extensionists, technical advice or support to embed the Sustainable Voluntary Standards.
- Continuous Communication: Members of the Platform are in permanent communication with the staff of backbone support organization. They participate in meetings and in the commonly developed services that the Platform offers to its members. There are also periodical events to exchange goals and experiences, and cooperation to build communications materials. Besides, the Platform has its own communications tools such as its webpage and social media channels.
- Backbone Support Organizations: Solidaridad, an international organization with 50 years of working in sustainable chain supplies, serves as the backbone organization for the initiative and hosts different events to share experiences and identify opportunities for further cross-member collaboration. Solidaridad appoints specific staff to work for the Platform who can plan, manage, and support the initiative. The organization serves also as facilitator, develops and manages the communications and is in charge of other logistical and administrative details.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the Tropical Forest Alliance.
The Sustainable Trade Platform, a public-private partnership in Colombia initiated in 2013, has helped to identify shared priorities and to set up common agendas for increasing the sustainable production of palm oil and coffee through non-competitive collaboration. The sector partnership has provided learnings on how collective impact can be achieved in similar initiatives by creating five key enabling conditions.