Performance Measurement

Who are the farmers who grow our coffee, our tea, and our vanilla? What are the risks to their farming systems or the wellbeing of their families? How do the companies that buy their products secure their supply and reputations? Are things really getting better when farmers get certified? Or when they start trading with global companies? Or when their access to credit, training, and agricultural inputs is improved?

These questions reflect a growing desire from many companies, donors, lenders, NGOs, certification organizations, and farmer groups, to know more about who the farmers are and how farming systems are changing over time. We need to measure supply chains conditions more effectively in order to make sure that trade is having a positive impact towards more sustainable farming practices.

Answering these questions is challenging. Supply chains are characterized by diverse and often remote small-scale producers, and information systems and literacy cannot be assumed. It can be difficult to know what to ask, and how to ask it in ways that are credible, reliable, and affordable.

Yet, without good measurement systems, we cannot have the necessary feedback loops between growers and buyers, between farmers and NGOs that help us understand the problems, set priorities, and know whether things are improving.

To help address this challenge, a collaboration of companies, NGOs, lenders, voluntary standards, and donors are developing and testing a shared approach to performance measurement that builds on the multi-stakeholder work by leaders in the field, like COSA and ISEAL. We are developing a credible and appropriate set of learning questions and indicators that together form a common framework for assessing and tracking improvements in the sustainability of smallholder agricultural supply chains.

While the design of specific studies must be driven by the goals of that measurement effort, having a consistent and common framework to guide the choice of indicators and metrics can increase pre-competitive learning across studies, reduce costs, waste, and confusion for suppliers and farmers, and improve study design by building on good practices and tested metrics.

If you would like more information on the Performance Measurement Community of Practice or if you would to get involved by testing and improving the Framework, please contact Emily Shipman of the Sustainable Food Lab (SFL). SFL is stewarding Seas of Change together with the Centre for Development Innovation of Wageningen UR (CDI).

General resources:

Crop-specific research: