Our Journey to More Sustainable Cattle Ranching

The Rainforest Alliance has worked for more than 30 years to promote best practices in farming, driven by the belief that making agriculture more sustainable is critical to stopping deforestation and combating climate change. Cattle ranching in particular is a major driver of deforestation in the Amazon Basin and beyond—in fact, it is responsible for more than three-quarters of all forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon, and the sector as a whole accounts for almost 10 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. For this reason, in 2010 we worked with the Sustainable Agriculture Network to develop specific standard for the certification of cattle farms.

Since the cattle certification program’s launch, we have not seen the impact and growth that we had hoped to achieve. Eight years after its launch, our cattle program has only half a dozen certified operations in Brazil and Colombia. On the supply chain side, the market uptake has been slow to nonexistent. Therefore, we have made the strategic decision to omit cattle from the scope of the new Rainforest Alliance standard, scheduled to publish in mid-2020. This means that the cattle certification program under the 2017 Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standard will phase out gradually.

That said, the cattle sector will remain an important focus for the organization as part of its wider vision and commitment to drive sustainable transformation of landscapes, agriculture, and forestry. Landscape-level and community approaches—strategies that we forged and have employed with documented success for decades—are particularly well-suited to addressing the challenges associated with cattle ranching, which reach beyond the scope of a single farm.

The Rainforest Alliance is also working to make cattle production systems and supply chains more sustainable through two collaborative global initiatives to strengthen incentives, government policy, and accountability for sustainable practice.

  • The Accountability Framework initiative provides a common, consensus-based approach for companies to set sustainability commitments, implement responsible supply chains, and credibly demonstrate results. Cattle producers, processors, and buyers can use it to help meet market expectations for responsible beef and leather.
  • LandScale helps commodity buyers (e.g., beef and leather buyers), investors, government agencies, and others to monitor and improve the sustainability of entire landscapes by offering a credible system for assessing and verifying landscape performance and trends. This program can help drive more sustainable land-use patterns, production systems, and socioeconomic outcomes in landscapes with significant cattle production.

The Rainforest Alliance is well positioned to have a bigger positive impact on reducing the negative effects of cattle through these approaches. Past and current experience demonstrates the positive impacts that landscape and community approaches can have on communities and forests.


Forest canopy - photo by Sergio Izquierdo

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