Setting the standard: Improving internal management to unlock farm-level impact

70% of the food in the world is produced by smallholders that all live in different countries and landscapes. These smallholders often face high costs and low prices, making it difficult to access the inputs and services. As a result farmers group together to strengthen their business case. UTZ is a certification standard for coffee, cocoa, tea, and hazelnut production that, similar to other certification schemes, often works with smallholder groups to collectively certify their practices.  To ensure impact at farm-level the way farmer groups are organized internally matters. At the same time, UTZ’s operations reach many different landscapes and no farmer group functions exactly the same. To better understand and improve the performance of different so called Internal Management Systems (IMS) across sourcing countries, NewForesight developed a standardized methodology for UTZ.

Third-party certification vs. internal management

To check if crops are produced according to the UTZ Standard, independent third-party ‘Certification Bodies’ do the auditing. However, the auditor is not physically able to visit every farm in a farmer group or estate. Instead, they choose a sample of the group members (the square root of the total). In comes the internal management of the farmer group. These delegates from within the group actually visit all farmers all year round and are responsible for monitoring the farms and helping them remain compliant. They understand the individual farmers the best and therefore the IMS team is essential to the UTZ assurance model.

The many functionalities of Internal Management Systems

IMS teams in certified farmer groups gather a lot of information like farm productivity, land size, fertilizer use through unannounced internal inspections at all farms within a farmer group and make them aware of the requirements and rules of the standard. Based on the results and through a Plan, Do, Check, Act cycle the IMS team creates a self-assessment and three-year management plan to continuously improve.  Practices are for example: yearly updating the risk assessment and the group improvement plan, monitoring activities, collecting and analyzing data, and formulating aspirational goals to think beyond certification requirements alone. In this way the impact of UTZ is not only the improvement of practices to a certain level (e.g. good agricultural practices) but the ongoing progress of performance for farmers as entrepreneurs.

Developing an IMS methodology to measure and improve performance

With Certificate Holders all over the world and with a variety of commodities among them, the role and relations of the IMS officers are not straightforward and therefore understanding their functioning is by no means easy. To support UTZ in strengthening the role of IMS in scaling the impact of certification, NewForesight developed a standardized methodology that describes and analyzes a single IMS, benchmarks its performance to the Plan – Do – Check – Act cycle and provides recommendations on ways to improve. This tool can, for instance, compare different levels of maturity of an IMS (e.g. a cooperative in Ivory Coast vs a cooperative in Honduras) and different modes of implementation (trader-led vs cooperative-led farmer groups). We applied this methodology to 7 case studies. The methodology and the case studies provide an overview of, and insight into, IMS, how to improve it, and how to continuously learn from other companies and modes of implementation.

To learn more about the Internal Management Systems within UTZ-certification, visit their website.