While the Rainforest Alliance is now well-known for its sustainability training for farmers, foresters, and tourism businesses, it originally focused on using certification as a tool for conservation. Since we began certifying to the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) Standard in 1992, SAN/Rainforest Alliance certification has expanded to cover 1.2 million farms in 42 countries, growing 101 different crops on about 3.5 million hectares—an area nearly the size of Switzerland.
But has all this growth meant real gains in conserving biodiversity, safeguarding natural resources, increasing farm productivity and profitability and improving the lives of farmers, workers, and their families?
The brand new Impacts Report attempts to answer that question. We reviewed nearly two dozen scientific studies, synthesised data from the SAN certificate database, and conducted a new analysis of audit report data from 219 certified farms and farmer groups. The report begins with a global snapshot of the scope and geographic distribution of certified farms, and then focuses on results related to our most widespread certified crops – coffee, cocoa, tea and bananas – followed by in-depth analyses of results related to livelihoods, water, biodiversity and climate change.
Here are five key takeaways from the new report:
- Certified farms apply more sustainable farm practices than non-certified farms.
Across several crops and countries, certified farms were found to implement sustainable practices at a higher rate than non-certified farms.
- Certification benefits small-scale producers— though not always in the ways they expect.
The findings in this report cast doubt on the conventional wisdom that without price premiums to compensate for costs of certification, farmers will lose interest. This is because smallholder farmers applying the agronomic practices outlined in the SAN Standard were found to increase productivity and profitability in most instances where these outcomes were evaluated. These gains, together with other benefits such as increased access to training and improved environmental quality and health, are cited by farmers as important sources of value and reasons to stay certified.
- Certified farms contribute to protecting local water resources.
At least seven published studies have documented positive effects of SAN/Rainforest Alliance certification in protecting water quality on and around certified farms. These results were mostly in the areas of improved erosion control, reduced agrochemical use, and more effective wastewater treatment.
- Certification contributes to healthier natural ecosystems, not just on the farm but in the surrounding landscape.
Multiple studies have documented increases in tree cover and wildlife protection on certified farms, relative to non-certified farms or pre-certification conditions. Furthermore, the shade trees, natural ecosystem patches and riparian corridors on certified farms can contribute to conservation in the broader landscape, as found by independent studies in Brazil, Colombia and Ethiopia.
- When farms remain certified for two or more years, their sustainability practices tend to keep improving over time. Time series data from audit reports indicate that from 2011–2014, a high proportion of initial non-conformities to the SAN Standard (non-conformities indicate a less sustainable performance) were resolved through the adoption of more sustainable practices. During this period, overall levels of conformance with SAN criteria increased substantially, from 90 percent to 94 percent for bananas in Central America, from 83 percent to 88 percent for coffee in Central America, from 85 percent to 88 percent for cocoa in West Africa, and from 87 percent to 93 percent for tea in East Africa. These results suggest that as producers stay in the system longer, they are able to resolve many weaknesses initially flagged by auditors and continually improve their performance.
We encourage you to review the full Impacts Report and dig deeper into the findings.