Rainforest Alliance Joins Nestlé in Plan to Transform Coffee Farming

August 27, 2010

Rainforest Alliance President Tensie Whelan joined Nestlé CEO Paul Bulcke today in Mexico City to announce an ambitious new initiative to increase sustainable coffee production and make sustainable coffee farming more accessible and attractive to a new generation of farmers. Nescafé is the world's largest coffee brand, sourcing and selling about 10 percent of the world's coffee beans. The Rainforest Alliance, an international, nonprofit group known for its work in sustainable agriculture, forestry and tourism, is working with Nescafé on its Nescafé Plan, a new agenda to increase its supply of coffee beans without clearing rainforest, using less water and fewer agrochemicals.

According to Bulcke, Nescafé will invest 350 million Swiss francs (about $336 million) over the next ten years to expand the company's agricultural research and training capacity to benefit many of the 25 million people who make their living growing and trading coffee.

The Plan will use advanced farming methods to help farmers increase yields, in part through new coffee varieties (natural hybrids, not GMOs) developed by Nestlé scientists that are high yielding and resistant to disease and the volatile weather of a changing climate.

Coffee Cherries

The Rainforest Alliance and the other NGOs in the Sustainable Agriculture Network will support Nestlé in meeting the objectives of the Nescafé Plan. The Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) is a coalition of NGOs in coffee-growing countries that developed the first and most widely used standard based on the three interlocking spheres of sustainability: environmental protection, social responsibility and economic vitality. The program will also involve the 4C Association, a broad coalition of farmers and representatives of the coffee industry and civil society. The 4C developed the Common Code for the Coffee Community, regarded as the best guideline for farmers taking their first steps on the long journey toward sustainability.

Under the Nescafé Plan, agronomists from Nestlé, the Rainforest Alliance, SAN and collaborating organizations will combine traditional farmer wisdom with modern science to develop highly advanced coffee farming techniques and guidelines called the Nescafé Better Farming Practices. They will be tested on 35 demonstration farms near Nescafé factories in countries including Mexico, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand.

Nestlé and the NGOs have committed to supplying the necessary tools and training to bring 10 percent of the farms that supply Nescafé into compliance with the SAN standards by 2020. Farmers can decide for themselves if they want to apply for the Rainforest Alliance certification which attests that their operations meet high standards and use best practices for protecting the environment and workers. At this time, Nescafé will not be using the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal in marketing its coffee products.

The Plan also aims to bring all of the farms that directly supply the Nescafé factories up to the 4C baseline code by 2015. In the first year, its goal is to introduce 10,000 farmers to sustainable agriculture guidelines.

This is an ambitious, complex agenda, requiring a comprehensive, integrated approach. Whelan and Bulcke emphasized that to succeed in the globalized and competitive coffee game, farmers must first meet established standards for sustainability as defined by the SAN and 4C and then take extra steps to increase yields, control costs, improve crop quality, diversify and prepare for irregular weather and the other impacts of a changing climate.

Pine-Shaded Coffee

"From the time the Rainforest Alliance and our partner NGOs began working in coffee more than two decades ago, we insisted that the diverse and daunting social, economic and environmental challenges cannot effectively be addressed one by one," Whelan said. "They must be met with a holistic and integrated approach."

"The Rainforest Alliance and SAN are natural collaborators for us in putting this plan into action," Bulcke said. "Our scientists and agronomists have been working together in the field for years. We share a common understanding of what it will take to help this and future generations of coffee farmers to succeed."

"Through the Nescafé Plan, we can get many more farmers started on the path toward sustainability," Whelan said. "The potential impact is enormous. Just think of the benefits to farmers, rural communities and wildlife if, for example, we could double the yield on coffee farms by cutting agrochemical use and not forests."