Better-Quality Coffee — and More of It

From our time spent in farming communities throughout the tropics, we’ve seen firsthand how the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ program positively impacts small farmers, but now a new report has independently confirmed our experiences, demonstrating that Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee farms surpass their peers in a variety of ways.

Ruerd Ruben and Guillermo Zuniga of Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands conducted an extensive field survey of 315 small coffee producers in the Las Segovias region of Northern Nicaragua. Their study compared Rainforest Alliance Certified farms to those that produce coffee under other standards as well as to a control group of independent coffee farmers. Entitled “How Standards Compete: Comparative Impact of Coffee Certification in Northern Nicaragua,” the August 2010 report found that Rainforest Alliance Certified farms had higher production yields and produced better-quality coffee beans, which allowed farmers to generate higher incomes overall.

More than 30,000 Nicaraguan farmers cultivate coffee, and roughly 150,000 rural families are involved in coffee harvesting. The overwhelming majority of these farmers manage family enterprises of less than 8.6 acres (3.5 hectares), and coffee creates almost one-third of Nicaragua’s total rural employment.

The study’s authors found that the standard established by the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) — the international coalition of conservation groups that jointly manages Rainforest Alliance certification — devotes greater attention to ecological production systems, water and nature conservation and the maintenance of local biodiversity and wildlife. The report also noted that the SAN standard does not permit the expansion of farms (which often results in forest destruction) and focuses instead on increasing productivity and implementing efficient ecological production systems.

According to the study, Rainforest Alliance Certified farms:

  • Were less dependent solely on coffee and maintained a more diversified income, which helped farmers finance the investments necessary to improve production processes.
  • Produced 20 to 40 percent higher yields per unit of land.
  • Achieved considerably higher coffee-quality averages.
  • Sold a larger percentage of their coffee at a premium price and received a higher average price overall – due in part to management strategies on the farm.
  • Demonstrated a greater level of involvement by women in both coffee production and household decision-making.
  • Had households with a higher education level and a somewhat smaller family size.

Learn more about Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee.

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