The ISEAL Alliance Secretariat works with its sustainability standard members on various projects aimed at strengthening their approach to M&E systems, learning more about the impacts of standard systems, and determining how to increase the effectiveness of standards. The ‘Demonstrating and Improving Poverty Impacts’, has this aim and is funded by the Ford Foundation. ISEAL has commissioned a consortium led by the Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, and including the Gujarat Institute of Development Research, the Centre for Economic and Social Studies, and Pragmatix Research and Advisory Services, to conduct an impact evaluation study of the early impact of pre-certification technical assistance and certification on previously uncertified smallholders.The Better Cotton Standard System is a holistic approach to sustainable cotton production that covers all three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social and economic. The study research questions are as follows:
• To what extent has the process of becoming or being certified under BCI sustainability standards had an impact (positive or negative, expected or unexpected) upon smallholders (farmers and households) in Kurnool district? What are the economic (yield, productivity, incomes, food security) and social (child labour, farm workers, no discrimination in wages for women) impacts?
• To what extent do we see an improvement in environment variables connected with cotton production (uptake of fertiliser use, reduction in pesticide use, efficient water use, soil health, habitat /biodiversity)?
• To what extent can Producers Unit and /or Farmer Producer Company ‘empower’ cotton farmers and households – both economically and socially?
• Can we see an increase in Better Cotton availability and uptake in the district /beyond? How can this be strengthened? What are the relative benefits and costs of meeting BCI standards and achieving certification for intended beneficiaries and supply chain actors?
In order to be able to measure and attribute impact, but also to understand what has created impact and identify lessons, the study employs a theory based evaluation approach. The theory of change lays out the anticipated chain of inputs, outputs, outcomes and impacts, and the causal linkages between them. A Randomized Control Trial (RCT) is found feasible primarily due to the willingness of the implementing partner to rollout their programme following a randomization strategy identified by the evaluation team. A cluster-RCT approach is proposed with the attribution of impacts of the BCI intervention package analysed by comparison of pre- and post-situation of intervention farmers and pre and post comparisons between intervention and non-intervention groups. The level of BCI project exposure to the farmers will also be assessed so that the analysis takes account of variations in implementation. Matched pair randomisation is used based on statistical data (village /cluster wise) from various existing sources. Observational approaches were employed following the lines of comparison of the experimental design to further interrogate and gather evidence on the theory of change (and alternative theories of change)– to assess what change has happened and why, through participatory field research techniques including household survey, focus group discussions, household panel and key informant interviews.