As producers confront the effects of climate change, deforestation, and issues with land management, sustainability certifications are becoming more important than ever.
To understand how certification programs for coffee producers are changing in Honduras and more widely across the world, we spoke to the team from Rainforest Alliance. Read on to find out what they told us.
HOW HAS THE RAINFOREST ALLIANCE IMPROVED ITS CERTIFICATION PROGRAM? WHAT WERE THE MAJOR CHANGES AND HOW DO THEY BENEFIT PRODUCERS?
Our new certification program was launched on June 30th last year. It has improved measurement requirements for achieving greater impact, moving from a binary pass/fail system to one where issues that need improvement are evaluated and addressed. The new program will replace the existing Rainforest Alliance and UTZ programs, starting from mid-2021.
The major changes include the following:
– Climate-smart, agricultural, and natural solutions that improve the future of crops, products, and supply chains. These do so by offering adaptation and improved resilience to the climate crisis, while also improving farmer livelihoods.
– Human rights such as child labor, forced labor, discrimination, violence, and harassment in the workplace that affect agriculture now seek to take into account risks by engaging with local communities to seek solutions.
– Better use of data for risk analysis and performance measurement. These processes will now be undertaken with new digital tools for farmers to provide much clearer information for businesses. Geospatial analysis will also be used to support and monitor performance in activities such as avoiding deforestation.
– The concept of shared responsibility will serve to balance the burden of achieving more sustainable agricultural production, which has so far been on producers alone. Buyers will have to reward certified producers with the payment of a mandatory sustainability differential through additional payment above market price. They will also have to make investments to support producers in achieving their sustainability goals and improving transparency in their management.
– Social and environmental requirements for producers and supply chains will depend on the crop, country, and high risk identification. These producers and supply chains will also need to implement improvements as established by auditors to measure their progress.
– Deforestation will remain prohibited for certified producers, but will extend to the conversion of all natural ecosystems, including wetlands and peatlands.
WHAT ARE THE RAINFOREST ALLIANCE’S MAIN OBJECTIVES FOR 2021?
The main objectives, in addition to the transition to the new 2020 program, are to assist organizations and partners with whom we work in supply chains with international companies; collaborative initiatives for the management of integrated landscapes; increase consumption of certified products in emerging markets, such as Mexico and Brazil; as well as, contributing to the creation of public policies that improve the conditions of producers and workers, local and indigenous forest communities in land access and tenure, reduce the impact of agriculture and forestry on natural resources.
Our goals in Honduras are also focused on linking our partners and organizations with more responsible and sustainable markets. That’s one of the reasons we participated in the Producer and Raster Forum.
TELL US ABOUT SOME OF THE MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL CERTIFICATIONS AND CERTIFIED FARMS IN THE LAST FIVE YEARS.
Studies show that the economic income of certified farms is better because they have higher yields, thanks to the application of specific agricultural practices. In turn, these farms receive better market prices because these practices support higher production yields and improved quality.
The Rainforest Alliance’s 2019 Certification Impact Report confirms that certified farms improve in these areas thanks to the training they receive on improved agronomic practices. However, despite this, certification is not enough, as the price of raw materials fluctuates considerably and depends on many external factors. This is why we have introduced a differential payment and investments for sustainability to our 2020 certification program.
In terms of conservation impact, Rainforest Alliance and UTZ-certified coffee farms perform better than non-certified farms, especially with better forest cover and dedicated protection of riparian areas (those near a river or stream) and better tree species diversity in farms and forests.
In addition to this, the number of wild bird species and amount of shade cover found on certified farms, including small forests, provide a great number of ecosystem services (such as food availability) and are beneficial for bird conservation.
AS AN ORGANIZATION IN HONDURAS, WHAT WERE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES YOU FACED IN 2020? HOW DID YOU ADAPT TO THEM?
One of our biggest challenges is supporting our producer partners and associations in adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change. At the end of 2020, the damage caused by tropical storms Eta and Iota was devastating.
Our aim now is to support coffee growing families in 13 municipalities across the departments of Francisco Morazán, Cortés, Yoro, and Ocotepeque to recover. These efforts will benefit some 3,740 families, totaling approximately 18,700 people. We also identified 29 organizations in need of support, including eleven working in coffee, nine in cacao, six in rambutan, and three in forestry.
HOW DOES THE RAINFOREST ALLIANCE SUPPORT PRODUCERS, AND WHAT KIND OF TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE DOES IT PROVIDE?
The organizations and producers we work with receive training and technical assistance to improve their organizational, financial, social, agricultural and environmental skills. This enables them to increase their productivity and move toward sustainability.
Through collaborative initiatives, we also support producers in seeking access to markets and encourage diversification by identifying supply chains that allow them a return of income in the short term. Receiving income from different sources and products provides them with economic alternatives while they formally establish themselves, and these crops give them a more robust income in the medium and long term.
In 2020 alone, we trained 260 beneficiaries belonging to 32 organizations that produce coffee, cocoa, rambutan, and forest products. In terms of coffee certification, we have 11,385 Rainforest Alliance-certified hectares and 60,306 UTZ-certified hectares, making us the fifth-largest producer in the program. The recorded volume of certified coffee is 26,090 and 104,211 metric tonnes respectively.
Credit: Rainforest Alliance