A recent trip to Colombia helped illustrate the difference between Rainforest Alliance certified and non-certified farms. Susan Nash, trade communication manager at Kraft Foods, explains why certification matters.
In June, we were privileged to be invited to Colombia to visit coffee farms and see first hand the difference that Rainforest Alliance certification makes to farms and their local communities.
We visited both Rainforest Alliance certified and non-certified farms, which clarified starkly the difference certification makes. Certified farms look different: there was no waste left on the ground, vegetation was more varied and generally everything about the farms looked more ordered. But most evident was the sense of pride that the farmers and workers projected.
To become certified, farms go through a rigorous process which ensures that they conserve environments, protect wildlife and put in place management processes and sound agricultural processes, as well as improve the lives of their workers. They are then regularly audited and have to show continuous improvements once certified.
To achieve Rainforest Alliance certification on one particular small farm, in the area of Huila, the farmer had to change the way he removed the pulp from his coffee cherries. Prior to certification he had used the local river water, putting waste pulp into the river where it caused pollution further down stream.
To gain certification, he had installed new equipment that not only conserved water, a necessary criteria for certification, but also cleansed the water before being put back into the nearby river. This pollution reduction then benefited the whole community downstream. The coffee cherry pulp was also being collected and used for fertilizer.
On another larger farm, La Floresta in the area of El Patal, the producer Gerardo Rodiguez spoke of his pride about all he had achieved through the process of certification. He told us: "The programme is beautiful as it gives a better quality of life for the children and wider community, not just because of the money, but because of the better environment it creates."
Rainforest Alliance certification clearly has a dramatic effect on agriculture, forestry and local communities. It helps protect the environment while promoting proud businesses that enable us to procure sustainable produce. So does certification make a difference? Yes, you bet it does!