More than 400 million cups of coffee are consumed each day in the United States (US), often without a thought to where or how the coffee was grown. In fact, the world’s coffee is produced in the tropics by more than 25 million people, and most coffee farms are located in areas regarded as high priorities for conservation.
Agricultural expansion is responsible for 70 percent of global deforestation and is the single greatest threat to tropical forests. In these biodiversity-rich regions, poor farming practices can lead to soil erosion, water pollution, and wildlife habitat destruction. And many farm workers struggle to make a living and feed themselves and their families.
The Rainforest Alliance has spent more than a decade working toward a sustainable system of coffee production – one that supports the rights and well-being of farmers, their lands, their livelihoods, their families, and communities.
At the Rainforest Alliance, we believe that one of the best ways to keep forests standing is by ensuring that it is profitable for businesses and communities to do so. That means helping coffee farmers realize greater economic benefits by ensuring ecosystems within and around their farms are protected, and that their workers are well trained and enjoy safe conditions, proper sanitation, health care, and housing. Once farms meet certain environmental and social standards, we link them up to the global marketplace where demand for third-party certified sustainable coffee is on the rise.
The Rainforest Alliance is working to bring coffee back into its natural habitat, restore local ecosystems, and protect wildlife habitat. We work with countless partners on the ground, including other NGO’s, companies, farmer training institutions, governments and individuals to provide technical assistance and training to farmers across the coffee-growing globe.
To achieve Rainforest Alliance certification, farms must meet strict sustainability standards that protect the environment and the rights and well-being of workers and their families. Certified farms conserve biodiversity, prevent deforestation, protect waterways, recycle waste, reduce agrochemical use and provide habitat for wildlife. In addition, permanent and temporary workers operate in safe conditions and earn just wages for their work that comply with local and national laws. More than 43,500 coffee farms are Rainforest Alliance Certified™, meaning 899,399 acres of farmland are sustainably managed.
Rainforest Alliance certification helps farmers bear the erratic swings in the global market by giving them the keys to improved farm management, leverage when negotiating and access to premium markets. Through certification, farmers learn the importance of protecting their natural resources and are given the financial incentive to do so.
Consumer demand for environmentally and socially responsible goods is at an all time high. According to a 2010 study, 84 percent of consumers in the US have purchased sustainable food or drink in the past month (source: Mintel, Sustainable Food and Drink) and another study in 2009 indicated that 54 percent of shoppers in the US consider sustainability to be one of their decision making factors and are “leaning green” (source: Grocery Manufacturers Association & Deloitte, Green Shopper Study).
To meet increasing consumer demand for sustainably produced goods, more coffee companies around the world are sourcing their beans from certified farms. In 2010, approximately 114,884 metric tons of coffee from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms was sold, a 31 percent increase from 2009. We anticipate similar if not more growth by the end of this year for 2011.
Business as usual is no longer an option. To succeed in the long-term, companies are increasingly choosing sustainable sourcing through Rainforest Alliance certification across a myriad of crops. Certification enables companies to provide meaningful and long-lasting impacts on the ground for farmers and the environment, get needed traceability and transparency in the supply chain and ensure independent, rigorous auditing so that high achieving farms can be truly recognized for their work.
Coffee lovers everywhere can support farmers who maintain critical forests and treat their workers with dignity simply by choosing beans stamped with the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal of approval. To learn more about how Rainforest Alliance certification benefits the lands, lives and livelihoods of coffee farming communities across the globe, visit: SealYourCup.org.
Alex Morgan is the Senior Manager for North America for the Agriculture division at the Rainforest Alliance. He has worked for the organization for the last four years and has been engaged in the coffee industry for over nine years. Alex lives and works in Seattle and is currently a member of the SCAA’s Sustainability Council.