• shade-coffee;
  • biodiversity;
  • conservation;
  • farmers;
  • El Salvador


Might the cost of certifying coffee farms limit the capacity of certification to cover a landscape and protect biodiversity? Gobbi simulated financial viability and Taylor and colleagues asked, “Does the premium pay off?” but there is little empirical evidence. In two years, a project in western El Salvador developed such data as farmers prepared for certification under Rainforest Alliance norms or verification for Starbuck's Coffee. On 45 sample farms, major investments were shade trees, soil/water conservation, and water supply for workers. At the aggregated or landscape level, investment on-farm cost US$77 per hectare of coffee. Further, it cost US$53 per hectare for audits and technical assistance, and more than US$30 for increased operating expenses. (Average figures per hectare across farms differed considerably: US$111 per hectare.) Returns in the first year of certification were price bonuses for certified coffee (US$191 per hectare at the aggregate level) and part of unexpectedly large production increases (US$265 per hectare, aggregate), totaling US$456 per hectare. (Average per hectare across farms gross benefits differed: US$734 per hectare.) More than half of the farms did very well with certification, even in the first year. A good market, low baseline productivity, unused productive capacity, and institutional support for extension and certification contributed. Bottom line: 300 farms were certified on 11,000 hectares covering one-third of a major coffee landscape and substantial aggregate investments in conservation. Comparative or follow-on data are needed for perspective on these results, to show if benefits were sustained, and to allow financial calculations.