The Bird Friendly® standards* address the bio-physical characteristics of the shade component in a grower’s (or a cooperative’s) coffee area. But aside from these criteria related to canopy height, species composition of the trees, and foliage cover that must be met in order to attain BF status, what are the financial costs? As of early 2010, the outlay of funds for getting one’s coffee certified as Bird Friendly® are quite moderate in the world of certifications.
There are monetary costs for actual inspection and certification, as well as organizational efforts to prepare, complete and keep track of things related to the certification and subsequent sale of BF coffee. Because organic certification is a pre-requisite, however, these internal costs of getting organized are familiar to and often already completed by many producers or grower groups.
Growers pay for the inspection and the certification (the certificate itself, analogous to the organic certification process). A producer or cooperative (group of producers) would pay whatever the per diem costs for the inspector are for however many days (usually 1 to 4) the shade evaluation takes. For Latin America, these rates range from $150 to $300 a day (depending on the agency), and the grower pays this to the organic certification agency involved in the inspection/certification. Only those agencies with USDA accreditation can conduct the BF inspection; they all have signed agreements with SMBC which spell out the guidelines/expectations for their doing so.
The certificate itself has a cost, too. We've worked with and urged the certification agencies to charge what we call a "symbolic fee" for the certificate, given that they are already doing the organic inspection/certification, which is the mainstay of their business. The agencies have complied with that and charge only $200 to $400 for the certificate. The BF shade certification is treated as a supplemental certification, since the organic certification is a pre-requisite for BF status.
All told, the inspection and the certification can range from around $400 to $1200, depending upon the time needed for the inspection. Because it normally gets folded into the organic inspection, a single inspector and visit can take care of the two certifications at once.
So, to summarize, there is a cost involved in the Bird Friendly® certification. The good news is that growers with the BF certification have used it to parley a premium for their coffee. Most seem to realize a five to ten cent premium (per pound) on top of that received for being organic—a premium that quickly pays for the costs of being certified. Some have received as much as 30 cents more per pound when selling to certain markets like Japan.
Finally, these costs are incurred only every three years, as that is the duration of the certificate. Once the shade meets the BF criteria, it does not change very much from year to year, so a three-year certificate is reasonable. This saves time, effort and money for the grower, and the inspection/certificate costs get spread out over three years, making the return on investment even more attractive.
* Developed by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) in the late 1990’s.