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Eco-certification and coffee cultivation enhance tree cover and forest connectivity in the Colombian coffee landscapes


Eco-certification of agricultural commodities offers an appealing option to promote more sustainable practices among smallholders, increase agricultural value, and lift farmers out of poverty through better market access. This study evaluates whether coffee cultivation is associated with changes in forest cover and forest fragmentation and whether the Rainforest Alliance eco-certification program has led to enhanced tree cover and greater landscape connectivity in the Colombian eastern Andes. Based on satellite imagery, geo-referenced coffee parcels and a pair–case comparison, we show that coffee-growing regions have larger areas in forest, larger forest patches, and better connectivity among patches than non-coffee areas. These differences, however, do not seem to be accentuated over time, except for dense forest cover in the coffee-growing region. The latter has increased since the introduction of a certification program that requires protection of forest remnants and riparian vegetation. Moreover, certified farms in the study area have increased the amount of tree cover on their plots significantly more than non-certified ones. Our study design, therefore, detects additionality in the impact of certification on tree cover increase: in a region with overall increase in tree cover, certified farms contributed significantly more to that trend than non-certified farms. This study presents the first evaluation of the impacts of certification in cultivated landscapes at the ecosystem level, detectable by Earth observation satellites.

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We thank the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC) for its generous support to conduct this research. We are grateful to Luis Fernando Samper and Andrés Valencia who granted us access to the information and Juan Pablo Becerra and Martha Cordoba who provided imagery and spatial data from SICA. We also thank the Ishiyama Foundation for the grant that supported this work.

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Correspondence to Ximena Rueda.

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Editor: Wolfgang Cramer.

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Rueda, X., Thomas, N.E. & Lambin, E.F. Eco-certification and coffee cultivation enhance tree cover and forest connectivity in the Colombian coffee landscapes. Reg Environ Change 15, 25–33 (2015).

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  • Eco-certification
  • Impacts
  • Coffee
  • Colombia
  • Agroforestry
  • Remote sensing