Increasingly, consumers want to know that goods and products they buy are produced without harming people or the environment. For this, they might rely on public or private certification and licensing schemes that show adherence to sustainability standards.
Yet such schemes often exclude the people with the greatest needs, such as small-scale farmers and indigenous communities. This is because they usually place the burden of proof on commodity producers, and small-scale producers rarely have the skills and resources needed to achieve certification. At the same time, certification does not always lead to a better price for producers. This means there is no guarantee of compensation for an investment in certification.
Small-scale producers can also struggle to meet sustainability standards if their land is not zoned for legally planting crops, if administrative procedures are very complex, or if official monitoring and law enforcement are not fairly or evenly directed. These are issues that only the government and local authorities can address.
Commodities are often produced on formerly forested land. This means that certification can provide only a partial solution to deforestation, even if it excludes commodities produced on land deforested after a specified cut-off date. In practice then, the contributions that certification can make to national goals on climate change and forest cover are limited by the way certification schemes are fragmented across products and with respect to the landscape segments they cover.