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Sustainable
Coffee

Goes to Market

By Eric Druckenmiller


The Aguilar family is proud. They should be -- their well-managed farms in the Colombian Andes are helping to conserve wildlife and culture in a country that holds 10% of the world’s biodiversity. On La Culebra and Las Delicias -- both certified by the Rainforest Alliance for sustainable management -- wildlife is protected, the use of agrochemicals has been reduced and once degraded areas have been significantly reforested, which contributes to cleaner drinking water and fewer water shortages during the dry season. The forests on the farms are home to innumerable species of flora and fauna, including tapirs, pumas and the orquidea, which is the national flower of Colombia. In fact, a recent study of the area’s biodiversity conducted by the Colombian Coffee Federation found species on both farms that had been considered extinct in the region.

Besides creating a healthy agroscape, the Aguilar family has created improved conditions for the workers of their farms, who benefit from good wages and health plans. The Aguilars have also donated a plot of land for the construction of a school.

The Aguilar family’s commitment to responsible farm management and Rainforest Alliance certification is the result of a new trend sweeping across the sustainable coffee movement. Motivated by both the demands of conscientious consumers coupled with a new and growing interest in transparency and accountability in business, growers, importers, exporters and roasters are starting to participate in a growing number of public-private partnerships all aimed at making the coffee industry environmentally and socially responsible. “Influential companies in the international coffee trade have been waking up to the value of sustainable production,” says Chris Wille, chief of the Rainforest Alliance’s Sustainable Agriculture Program. “The result is a new paradigm of cooperation that promises to broaden the availability of certified sustainable coffee in the marketplace.”

The Rainforest Alliance is an international, not-for-profit organization, that in collaboration with partner groups around the world, works to help farmers establish a new and integrated agricultural system that reflects environmental, social and economic concerns. In cooperation with scientists, farmers, policy-makers, NGOs and community leaders, the Rainforest Alliance has established a comprehensive set of guidelines for sustainable farming that safeguard the rights and well-being of workers, conserve natural resources, ensure long-term sustainable production and protect wildlife and the environment. The Rainforest Alliance Certified seal of approval assures consumers that these detailed standards have been met. Hundreds of large and small coffee farms and cooperatives in 10 Latin American countries are now certified, producing more than 24 million kilograms of Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee, up from 10 million kilograms a year ago. The Rainforest Alliance works both on the ground with producers to make their farms sustainable, and also brings their certified beans to market and links them with socially and environmentally responsible buyers, exporters and roasters, large and small.

The Kraft Connection
Kraft, the Rainforest Alliance, and local SAN partner, Fundación Natura, are working with the Colombian Coffee Federation (the FNC, or the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia in Spanish), the world’s largest agricultural NGO representing over 560,000 growers in Colombia, to secure certified coffee from small farms such as La Culebra and Los Morros that are nestled in the country’s Santander area. As Kraft does not own farms, these partnerships are important to ensure the long-term viability and quality of coffee supply. Purchases of Kraft’s All Life coffee directly supports struggling coffee communities, where the livelihoods of farm families depend on the reliable purchase of their certified beans.

“These projects are a testament to the importance of collaboration up and down the supply chain,” Juan Esteban Orduz, president of the Colombian Coffee Federation. The Federation manages over 500 technical extensionists who are in the coffee fields, assisting farmers with infrastructure improvements and cutting-edge production techniques and helping farmers to meet farm management criteria set by certification organizations such as the Rainforest Alliance.

The Federation is on the frontlines of production, helping producers grow sustainable coffee and testing the marketplace to identify companies interested in Rainforest Alliance Certified beans. As a result, the FNC and the Rainforest Alliance have been instrumental in securing buyers of Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee from Japan, Belgium, Spain and the U.S. and Canada.

Kraft intends to continue bringing sustainable coffee from Central and South America to the mainstream market. Having purchased 5 million pounds of Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee in 2004, the first year of the company’s partnership with the not-for-profit organization, Kraft has increased its commitment to at least 10 million this year. Certified beans are blended into Kraft’s conventional brands, and used in two new 100% Rainforest Alliance Certified products -- Kenco Sustainable Development Coffee in the United Kingdom and All Life in the United States.

Protecting Biodiversity Hot Spots
Farms have also become their own agents of change, working from the ground up to establish models of sustainable coffee production. With the support of public and private ventures, changes implemented on these farms are helping protect some of the most precious and sensitive biodiversity hotspots on the planet. In Brazil, Daterra, another Rainforest Alliance Certified farm, lies within a biodiversity hot spot, the cerrado, which is the most extensive woodland/savannah region in South America, and nearly as diverse and as threatened as the Amazon rainforest. Half of the farm, or 8,292-acres, is protected and devoted to cerrado conservation, and degraded areas have been planted with hundreds of thousands of trees.

According to Daterra owner, Luis Norberto Pascoal, Rainforest Alliance certification has not only resulted in improved environmental protection, but re-energized and engaged the people who live in or near the cerrado. “The Rainforest Alliance has helped our people to understand the need to conserve every detail of the natural habitat of the cerrado region.” says Pascoal.

IMAFLORA, Instituto de Manejo e Certificação Florestal e Agrícola, in Brazil is one of the eight Sustainable Agriculture Network partners operating in Latin America with the Rainforest Alliance in conservation and rural development projects. SAN partners are in the best position to manage certification programs as they understand local culture, politics, language and ecology and are trained in auditing procedures in compliance with internationally recognized guidelines. The next step for Daterra is to spread the philosophy and value of Rainforest Alliance certification to neighbors and cooperatives in the surrounding region.

“We have welcomed farmers from many regions of Brazil and explained the importance of environmental protection of wildlife and water,” says Pascoal. “It is our mission.”

ECOM is supporting Rainforest Alliance in the bio-diversity rich buffer zone of Bosawas Reserve.
Major coffee traders are also recognizing the value of protecting some of the planet’s last remaining hotspots and working with their farms to do so. Exportadora Atlantic, S.A., of the ECOM Group, a major coffee trader, is working with the Rainforest Alliance to help bring coffee farms in the buffer zone of the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve in Nicaragua up to certification standards before scheduling an official audit with one of the SAN partners. The reserve area is part of the greatest extension of continuous rain forest areas in Central America with extraordinarily rich biodiversity. Rainforest Alliance certification is part of a strategy to find viable alternatives to the environmental destruction that threatens the area’s natural resources.

Explains Carlos Landero, director of the Secretaría Técnica de Bosawas (SETAB), the environment ministry that administers the biosphere reserve, “By supporting the coffee farmers and helping them improve their farms and find new markets, we hope to establish an agricultural frontier that serves as a productive barrier and keeps people from moving into the protected areas.” About 220,000 people live in the reserve’s buffer zone, and more than 500 families have moved into its forest core, or zona nucleo, in recent years.

The Exportadora Atlantic has already identified 205 coffee farms in three areas of Bosawas, and hopes to have them all certified by 2006/2007 -- a potential production of 26,000 bags per year. A second phase of the Bosawas project will promote the planting of native hardwood species, to be harvested by the farmers in another 20 to 40 years, ensuring that they develop their own ‘’on-farm pension plan.”

Evolving Relationships
Multi-stakeholder partnerships continue to demonstrate the success of sustainable coffee projects in producing nations. For instance, Neumann Kaffee Gruppe, a key partner to coffee producers and the coffee industry, is administering a three-year, $750,000 project, launched in April of 2002, called the Programa de Caficultura Sostenible (PCS), to improve coffee quality and sustainability in Honduras. In the spirit of cooperation, the program is being co-funded by NKG member Beneficio de Café Montecristo (Becamo), the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and International Coffee Partners. The latter is a private sector initiative started by NKG and four European roasters to support development projects in coffee-producing countries.

NKG helped the farmers prepare for certification after the diagnostic was implemented by the Institute for Cooperation and Self-Development (ICADE), Rainforest Alliance’s partner in Honduras. The capital and know-how that comes from these collaborative efforts gives small landholders the tools they need to compete in the international marketplace and better manage their land.

“The hardest thing has been to spend money and time when you don’t have much of an income,” says Francisco Javier, owner of participating Finca Los Planes de Cosire farm. “We can now think more about the workers, and improving the lives of the people around here.”

Neumann Kaffee Gruppe has also been involved with a project on Finca La Puebla, a farm owned by the company. On La Puebla a public-private partnership was initiated by NKG with the German Agency for Technical Cooperation GTZ. The goal was to develop a way of operating in an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable manner. Additional cooperation and exchange with the Rainforest Alliance further developed the conceptual framework and instruments.

The results on La Puebla included improved quality of coffee, decreased waste, improved quantity and diversity of wildlife, and the completion of a number of important social projects - including a small school built with funds from the farm and being used for public education by the state of Puebla. Now, under the direction of NKG, farms in Mexico, Brazil and Uganda as well as farm management companies have a goal of achieving sustainability, thanks in large part to the activities on La Puebla.

Workers on Daterra understand the need for safeguarding running rivers and other natural habitats of the Cerrado region.
Another model project was initiated by Belgium-based importer Efico. As part of a commitment to implement the United Nations Global Compact principles -- a voluntary corporate citizenship initiative -- the company is advancing responsible corporate citizenship in partnership with other social actors to help realize a more sustainable and inclusive global economy. Having worked with El Platanillo plantation in Guatemala for years, Efico agreed to cover the costs of Rainforest Alliance certification as well as advance payment to the family to make investments on the farm. The Platanillo project has now become a flagship model for the Efico Foundation, a non-profit the company has dedicated to promoting sustainable coffee.

In another example of cooperation providing a catalyst for change on farms, Lavazza, with the technical support of Volcafe, one of the world’s leading traders of green coffee, launched the Tierra Project last year in Honduras, Peru and Colombia. The project aims to improve the living conditions of local communities and coffee growers by making coffee production environmentally friendly while remaining profitable.

Rainforest Alliance certification is pending, but farms are already protecting wildlife habitat, planting trees, learning how to combat pests without using dangerous pesticides, rebuilding housing, replacing inefficient coffee mills, composting organic wastes, and implementing worker health and safety programs. Once the farms achieve compliance, the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal will be found on Lavazza’s new line of coffee called “Tierra!” -- a blend from the three project areas.

Aggregating Efforts
Such collaboration among many stakeholders has also opened up the opportunity to answer market demand with one initiative. This is particularly relevant in the world of certified coffee as consumers increasingly demand various seals of approval. Matthew Algie, an independent coffee roaster in the UK, has remained a forward-thinking company by working with its coffee growers to meet market demand while achieving sustainable production. La Central, a cooperative of small coffee growers in Honduras, which had already been certified as Fair Trade and organic, needed to make several important changes in order to be Rainforest Alliance Certified, such as improving waste management and demarcating forest areas. Matthew Algie covered the costs of certification and, with the help of importer D.R. Wakefield, was able to establish the marketplace connections necessary to secure the future of sustainable coffee growing at La Central.

La Trinidad, a similar sized cooperative in Oaxaca, Mexico is also triple certified -- having achieved Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade and organic certifications. The farm’s customers -- which includes Coffee Enterprises, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Allegro Coffee Company and Sustainable Harvest -- have established long-term buying relationships that pay a guaranteed price for the cooperative’s coffee.

Whether it is building a public school on private land, dedicating half a farm for protection, or committing to purchase and promote Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee over several years, the collaborative efforts between farmers, roasters, importers and exporters demonstrate a significant shift along the entire supply chain that will ultimately make coffee production beneficial for the environment, and the wildlife and people that depend on it.

Eric Druckenmiller holds a Masters in Environmental Conservation from New York University and writes on sustainable development and conservation issues. Currently he is working at Rainforest Alliance in support of its marketing efforts for sustainable agriculture.


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