We are in a period of growth for agricultural ecosystem markets. The potential is clear, but in order for them to be truly effective, we need to establish strong, well-supported markets. Not just for growers, but for stakeholders across the agrifood supply chain.
I’ve learned a valuable lesson from the daily discussions I have with CPGs, project developers, NGO’s, and farmers groups. In many instances we come with the best intentions for ecosystem markets, and openness to having discussions. But we struggle to make progress due to the lack of common understanding of key terms and processes.
Today we are unpacking verification and certification - Let’s get started.
Building Value for Ecosystem Markets
Ecosystem outcomes are created when a grower adopts more sustainable farming practices. These practices help us reduce greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere and sequester carbon in our soil. Those effects are translated into outcomes, which companies can buy to meet their net-zero goals.
Markets are multi-faceted and not well-understood for agriculture. There are many steps associated with generating, validating, certifying and selling outcomes, and each step has its own regulations.
We do know one thing about these markets: they need to have a high value in order to incentivize change in our food systems.
That’s why we need to understand how to generate, verify and value ecosystem credits. Building this understanding will help us choose partners and advocate for regulation that will bring the most value to growers and to organizations, and that will contribute to the future stability of these markets.
When we talk about establishing high-value markets, we’re really talking about verification and certification. These processes ensure that growers are paid appropriately for their efforts and that companies avoid accusations of greenwashing (when an organization spends more time marketing its environmental efforts than on fulfilling its promises).
Verification and certification are two separate parts of the credit generation process. However, they serve a similar purpose: to ensure a scientifically rigorous process and establish high-value credits.
Verification is the process of auditing a farmer’s work, and confirming that the farmer has truly implemented the climate-smart practices they claimed. Both project developers and regulations bodies need to verify a farmer’s practices to maintain the integrity of a project and the market itself. That verification is highly respected if conducted by independent service providers.
Certification is a type of audit. In this process, regulations bodies will confirm that measurements have been done correctly, following approved practices or scientific models, and that the estimates for market values are calculated accurately.
Both of these processes are essential for an ecosystem outcome to receive a stamp of approval and become a true credit.
Verification relies on information that proves that a new practice (also called an intervention) took place, and that the effects are likely going to result in the projected outcomes. How can we provide this proof? We need to collect data to show that the new practice was implemented.
We can collect this data by recording farm management practices (through APIs from farm management systems or entered directly by the farmer), satellite and weather data, and any ancillary data that may be available to support the claim. Data collection in earlier years of implementation of regenerative agriculture programs used to be often manual and arduous. However, with new Monitoring, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) systems like Regrow’s MRV, the process of data collection is digitized, scalable and seamless.
Generally, if a farmer has captured all the required information on the farm, including machinery files and possibly receipts for the purchase of equipment or inputs, they have done their part in enabling verification. A third party, like Regrow, can collect the rest of the data in a transparent manner to make sure everything is verified appropriately.
MRV Provides Reliable Verification
A developed MRV system, such as Regrow’s MRV, has the ability to verify practice changes on a farmer’s operation in a simple, scalable way. Regrow’s solution can monitor these practice changes and generate a report for both project developers and regulations bodies. Regulations bodies will use these reports to conduct their own verification, not for the project developers but for the integrity of ecosystem markets. Some fields may be checked in-person by the standards body to ensure that the approach used was consistent with what was declared in the Project Design Document (PDD).
Once verification information has been delivered to project developers and regulators, and once regulators have verified the information independently, the verification process is complete.
Although verification is complete, it does not mean ecosystem credits are ready to be sold. In order to buy credits, we need to be certain that outcomes have been achieved using approved methodologies, have been audited appropriately and are aligned with a marketplace based on industry standards (such as ISO, the International Organization for Standardization.) Several globally-recognized standards organizations exist to verify and certify ecosystem services outcomes, including Gold Standard, SustainCert, Verra, and Climate Action Reserve.
After this has been done, the certification process is complete.
The credibility of certification and verification depends on the independence of the MRV provider and the standards body.
At Regrow, our MRV system meets the needs of the project developer while making sure projects comply with regulations.
We have a long list of API partners, so we can automatically receive data directly from farmers’ management systems and independently measure and verify that practice changes took place. Our ability to directly receive data from farmers allows us to be independent from project developers. The program developer has no direct role in the measurement or verification process, which keeps the system balanced. Likewise, in verification and certification, both the project developer and Regrow work only to provide the project report, data and any follow-up information necessary to complete the project audit and certification. We have no direct role in the certification process.
Choosing the Right Partners
Organizations looking to promote, generate, sell or buy ecosystem credits should pay careful attention to the parties involved in verification and certification. These processes ensure credible, scientifically rigorous outcomes for organizations and growers, and help maintain an organization’s credibility in this evolving environment.