Daniel Katz, the founder and chairman of the board of the Rainforest Alliance, explains how the organization’s planned merger with UTZ will be a major step forward for sustainability.
During the height of the global deforestation crisis in the mid-1980s, a small group of young people in Manhattan came together with a singular goal: to save the world’s tropical rainforests from destruction. Over three decades, that motley band of volunteers evolved into an innovative international organization dedicated to forest conservation, climate-smart agriculture, and sustainable livelihoods in the world’s most vulnerable landscapes.
Across the Atlantic Ocean, the Netherlands-based nonprofit organization UTZ has devoted itself a similar mission: to advance the well-being of farming communities around the world while safeguarding natural resources. In just 15 years, UTZ has significantly transformed the way coffee, cocoa, and tea are grown, and it has guided visionary international companies on the path to sustainability.
In recognition of the urgent challenges posed by climate change and population growth, the two organizations are now planning a merger that will enable us to scale up critical sustainability interventions in the global agricultural supply chain. The combined strength of our two organizations—which have trained more than 2 million farmers worldwide in total and brought over 43 million hectares of land under sustainable management—will lend greater momentum to the sea change that has already begun to take hold among forward-thinking leaders in government, the private sector, civil society, and rural communities on the front lines of climate change.
The future organization will increase the reach of our sustainable agriculture training and certification programs, so that all the world’s farmers can reap the benefits of efficient farm management, improved livelihoods, climate resilience, and the conservation of precious natural resources. Given that agriculture, along with the deforestation associated with it, drives 24 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, we are dependent upon farmers to do the heavy lifting when it comes to fighting climate change. Evolving our global food production system so that it supports the economic well-being of farmers, as well as long-term ecological stability, is not only the right thing to do—it is in the best interest for every single player in the supply chain, from farmers in the most remote regions of the world to consumers in every major metropolis.
Feeding an estimated 9.8 billion people by 2050 on a rapidly shrinking area of arable land can only be accomplished through a radical transformation that includes a wholesale reinvention of our global environmental priorities, as well as our social ones. Those who work at the nexus of agriculture, poverty, and deforestation understand that the fight against climate change is in fact inseparable from the fight for a living wage or the protection of children from labor abuses.
In the end, however, sustainable transformation will not only be driven by farmers or by conservation organizations like ours. It must be driven by industry leadership and consumer demand. This is where the certification of major commodities comes in. Certification is growing because companies and consumers are beginning to truly understand the impact of their actions on our collective future. Cultivating that consciousness—and thereby growing the market for goods produced with respect for farmers and care for our environment—has always been a central priority for both organizations. By joining forces with UTZ, we will have the capacity to integrate our comprehensive vision of sustainability into the supply chains of some of the world’s largest and best-known brands.
Our new combined organization will be called the Rainforest Alliance, building on a trusted public-facing brand that has engaged both conscientious consumers and responsible farmers who make a living alongside nature, often as the primary custodians of vital ecosystems. We will create a single certification standard—simplifying sustainability transformation for millions of farmers around the world. We will encourage companies to build and strengthen responsible supply chains through a more streamlined, efficient sustainable production landscape. And we will also advocate and fight for people-centered landscape conservation—from India and Indonesia to Guatemala and Ghana.
Above all, we are driven by our conviction that the path to sustainability is the only way forward. We hope you’ll travel it with us.