Our Work in Sustainable Agriculture
Agricultural expansion is responsible for 70 percent of global deforestation, and is the single greatest threat to tropical forests. In these biodiversity-rich regions, farms are often responsible for soil erosion, water pollution and wildlife habitat destruction. Rainforest Alliance certification encourages farmers to grow crops and manage ranchlands sustainably. Because our certification system is built on the three pillars of sustainability -- environmental protection, social equity and economic viability -- and no single pillar can support long-term success on its own, we help farmers improve in all three areas.
The Rainforest Alliance Certified seal can be found on major brands and specialty products at retailers across Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan. See our list of retailers for more information.
If you are a farmer looking to get certified, please contact the Sustainable Agriculture Network.
Over 100 crops can be certified according to environmental and social standards of the Sustainable Agriculture Network. As of March 2015, 1,130,383 small and large farms and cooperatives with a combined total area of about 7,694,693 acres (3,113,932 hectares) had been certified in Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Kenya, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Tanzania, and more.
The certification standards guide farmers toward sustainable farm management and give independent auditors a concrete measure by which to evaluate social and environmental improvements. Farms that meet the standards are awarded the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal of approval, a prestigious badge that can be used to market products.
To earn certification, a farm must meet the standards of the Sustainable Agriculture Network.
What makes the Rainforest Alliance certification system stand out in a sea of other certification systems?
Rainforest Alliance certification is built on the three pillars of sustainability -- environmental protection, social equity and economic viability. No single pillar can support long-term success on its own, so we help farmers succeed in all three areas. Since 1992, when it began in Costa Rica, the certification program has spread to 38 tropical countries around the world where the well-being of millions of farmers and workers and countless wildlife species is at stake. More than two million farmers, farm workers and their families directly benefit from Rainforest Alliance certification. They tell us that meeting the criteria is a challenge but doing so helps them farm intelligently, get ahead, gain confidence and plan their futures. While we support many initiatives dedicated to conservation and social justice, our experience, mission and grassroots strength combine to distinguish Rainforest Alliance certification from other agricultural certifications. Learn more in our publication, The Rainforest Alliance Certified Difference.
How do you ensure that the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) Standard remains rigorous and up-to-date?
In its earliest days, the SAN -- a collation of NGOs based in the tropics -- established a number of committees to periodically re-examine the standard and ensure that it remains rigorous and is applied and monitored responsibly. Comprised of a cross-section of network staff, consultants and internationally respected experts in their fields, these committees meet on a regular basis to debate even the minutest details and determine the best ways to address any unresolved issues or new needs. Learn more about the evolution of the SAN Standard »
Rainforest Alliance certification is built on ten guiding principles, including water conservation. This principle encompasses more than just the reduction of water consumption; farmers must also monitor water quality, treat wastewater and avoid contaminating springs and rivers on and near their properties. Learn more about our work to protect waterways »
No, we do not. Prices are obviously important -- in fact, Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms often generate significantly higher prices for their crops -- but a system that focuses primarily on pricing misses out on a number of other critical elements that influence whether or not a farmer can lift himself out of poverty. For example, price-based systems depend on the willingness of customers to pay premiums for certified products. But this approach is of little use to farmers who are not lucky enough to have such customers. Learn more »
The SAN Standard requires that workers be paid at least the legal minimum wage and receive full rights and benefits. As part of the Rainforest Alliance certification process, SAN auditors collect information about salaries (including non-monetary benefits such as housing and medical care) and ensure that work hours are regulated, overtime is voluntary and compensated, and workers receive health and safety training, among other criteria. Learn more »
In order for a farm to earn the seal, it must ensure that workers are granted freedom of association and the right to organize and freely negotiate their working conditions in a collective manner. What's more, Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms must have — and publicly divulge — a policy guaranteeing this right and must permit workers to form and/or join unions, bargain collectively or organize for ideological, religious, political, economical, social or cultural reasons. (Notably, the SAN standard was the first agricultural certification standard to include freedom of association and many other conventions established by the International Labor Organization [ILO].) Learn more »
Can a product that contains less than 100 percent of a certified ingredient carry the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal?
Yes, it can -- but not without some very important caveats. Because we believe in transparency, if a product includes less than 90 percent Rainforest Alliance Certified™ content, this must be clearly disclosed directly on-package underneath the seal. Not all certification programs are as forthright, but we know how important it is for consumers to trust our little green frog.
We allow companies to use the seal without reaching the 100 percent mark because their purchases from certified farms can still make a huge difference to farmers and their families. A large company that begins sourcing 30 percent of its supply from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms can have an enormous positive impact on worker's lives and the environment.
It's not easy for farmers to earn the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal, so the demand for certified crops like coffee and cocoa exceeds the supply. Many companies that would like to sell 100 percent certified products just can't yet. We are working as hard as we can with farmers to meet the growing demand, but when it comes to sustainable farming, we don't want to take any shortcuts. Learn more »
On Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms, children are not permitted to work — even part-time — if they are younger than 15 years old. The children of farm workers are also guaranteed access to school, decent housing and health care. Learn more about children living in farm communities »
The Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade are both international organizations committed to improving the lives of farmers and farm workers in the developing world. The Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal can be found on an array of farm goods -- from coffee and bananas to flowers and ferns -- as well as timber, paper and other forest-derived products. The Fair Trade Certified™ label appears on an assortment of agricultural goods, including tea, sugar, coffee and vanilla. While the Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade share similar missions and goals, they differ in focus and strategy. Learn more »
Organic agriculture is an important, worldwide movement to make farms productive without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) standards are based on an internationally recognized integrated pest management model, which allows for some limited, strictly controlled use of agrochemicals. SAN standards emphasize two important goals: wildlife conservation and worker welfare. Farmers certified by the Rainforest Alliance do not use agrochemicals prohibited by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the European Union, nor do they use chemicals listed on the Dirty Dozen list of the Pesticide Action Network North America. Managers of certified farms are required to use biological or mechanical alternatives to pesticides whenever possible. When farmers determine that agrochemicals are necessary to protect the crop, they must choose the safest products available and use every available safeguard to protect human health and the environment.
Certification approaches farming in a holistic manner, and we have demonstrated that these standards afford a realistic and effective way for farms of all sizes to move toward independence from agrochemicals.
Wildlife conservation is an integral part of our sustainable farm management system. Certified farms can be a haven for wildlife, and often serve as buffer zones around parks and as "wildlife corridors" between parks. Sustainable Agriculture Network standards provide guidelines for the protection of wildlife and forests and other valuable habitats in and around farms. Certified coffee and cocoa farms in natural forest zones are required to maintain diverse shade-cover of native trees, which provide habitat for all types of species, from birds to monkeys. Many certified farms protect forest reserves.
The standards were developed through an in-depth, collaborative process by Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) member groups, farmers, scientists and many other advisors who volunteered their time. Over the years, a number of individual members, private foundations, companies and governments have contributed to the program.
Farmers pay per diem and travel expenses for technicians and auditors. As these visits are performed by local organizations, the costs are often lower than other systems. Smallholders may organize an internal management system and seek certification as a group, thus reducing auditing costs and administration.
The Rainforest Alliance only accepts contributions from such companies in the following three ways:
- fees for certification or related services;
- tickets, tables or sponsorships at public fundraising events; and
- funding for education, training or outreach activities.
For a breakdown of expenses and income sources, please see our annual report.
Certification increases efficiency on farms, reducing costly inputs and improving management. Workers benefit from a cleaner, safer, more dignified workplace where their rights are respected. Certification gives farm owners better access to specialty buyers, contract stability, favorable credit options, publicity, technical assistance and premium markets. Although the Rainforest Alliance and other Sustainable Agriculture Network members are not directly involved in the negotiations between farmers and their product buyers, we find that most farmers are able to receive a price premium because their farms are certified. The quality of the farm product, whether it be cocoa, coffee, bananas ortea, generally improves.
Controlled blending traces cocoa to the factory gate, whereas the mass balance approach stops tracing cocoa once it leaves the farm. In addition, controlled blending requires “recipe matching” over time -- meaning that companies must source cocoa from the same origins and in the same forms and quantities as the ingredients listed in the recipes for the products on which they wish to display the green frog seal. Learn more about controlled blending and mass balance »