At the Rainforest Alliance, we are constantly striving to offer more value to the thousands of farmers and companies around the world who use certification to drive more sustainable agriculture and equitable supply chains. For this reason the Rainforest Alliance 2020 Certification Program has many innovative new features—from our shared responsibility approach to a model of continuous improvement. It took years of hard work and collaboration to get us here. Before publishing the 2020 Sustainable Agriculture Standard in June, we held two separate rounds of public consultations online with over 1,000 people in 50 countries, incorporating input from the field to the boardroom.
As we roll out the new program, we continue to engage in dialogue with our partners to make the standard even more practical and flexible to different contexts and to ensure a smooth implementation and transition from previous standards. The new program aims to strengthen the quality of implementation and enable buying companies to provide additional support for farmers in implementing the standard requirements. In addition, we are gathering feedback from our pilots with early implementers of the 2020 Certification Program, and so far, their response has been generally positive.
Discussions and pilots with the banana sector
Since the publication of the 2020 Certification Program, we have held more than 15 technical meetings with many participants from banana sector organizations and farms. These meetings have given us the opportunity to have constructive discussions on key elements of the Sustainable Agriculture Standard. Our goal is to ensure that banana growers around the world are using the full power of the standard so that together we can maximize the positive social, environmental, and economic impact.
- We held the first meeting in July 2020. The Rainforest Alliance core banana team and members of its leadership team held an open discussion with sector organizations from Costa Rica, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, and Ecuador. We followed this with four technical meetings in July and August, as well as eight country-specific meetings on shared responsibility.
- The Rainforest Alliance has also conducted several meetings with smallholder banana farmers to help with the implementation of the new standard—with a focus on the requirements specific to individual situations.
- The convening meeting at the end of December 2020 concluded this round of discussions, which included Rainforest Alliance leadership and Board Chair. In this meeting, the Rainforest Alliance confirmed the sustainability ambitions behind its new standard. The Rainforest Alliance summarized the actions taken, which were based on the feedback from the sector and again invited banana farmers and companies to implement the standard together. For more details, please see the slide deck from this meeting.
PILOTS AND TRAININGS
In the first quarter of 2021, the Rainforest Alliance is planning to run several pilots with international retailers to see how the shared responsibility approach works in practice and to adjust the guidance and trainings accordingly. The Rainforest Alliance invites banana farmers to participate in these pilots and provide input in order to ensure smooth implementation.
Furthermore, the trainings of current certificate holders and potential new members in Latin America will start in January 2021 (see this page for more details on how to get training in different regions).
Actions taken by the Rainforest Alliance based on feedback
Every piece of feedback we receive helps us make the program better. Based on the feedback from the banana sector, the Rainforest Alliance identified 39 action points. By the end of December 2020, we completed 24 of these actions. We will incorporate these improvements in the guidance documents and version 1.1 of the new standard (published early 2021). The other actions are being implemented or have led to a few invitations for the banana sector to provide further input.
The Rainforest Alliance has also adapted timelines to support implementation for banana farms and companies, for example:
- Banana farms were granted 18 months from July 1, 2021 to implement the new standard, based on the very clear request from the banana sector organizations to allow for the entirety of 2022 to implement the new standard.
- We moved deadline for implementing the shared responsibility chapter of the standard to the first contract cycle after July 2021 (to align it with general timelines for making new contracts in the banana sector).
Additionally, we are currently collecting input for guidance documents on:
- Shared responsibility (published in the first quarter of 2021)
- Energy use (published by December 2020)
- Integrated Pest Management (published by December 2020)
In the weeks and months ahead, the Rainforest Alliance invites banana farmers and companies to:
- Participate in a workshop in Q1 2021 to discuss requests for exceptional use of pesticides and implementation challenges before publication of our ‘exceptional use’ policy.
- Provide feedback on the new Annex 13 (published in January 2021) which will explain how to contribute towards conservation and restoration areas outside farm boundaries–to comply with the 10% natural vegetation cover requirement.
- Provide input and feedback for revising drone requirements around aerial application of pesticides to ensure safe spraying.
- Participate in our pilots on shared responsibility approach starting in Q1 2021.
- Take part in the trainings on the new standard starting in January 2021.
By coming together in an open discussion, we can have a positive impact on the sustainability of banana farms and the livelihoods of banana growers around the world. We remain committed to the continuous improvement of our certification program to drive real change on the ground—in collaboration with farmers, companies, and other members of our alliance.
Read more in the statement from the Rainforest Alliance inviting banana sector to join our ambitious, new certification program.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How was the 2020 Sustainable Agriculture Standard developed and feedback incorporated?
The Rainforest Alliance is a voluntary certification scheme, which adheres to the rules of the International Social & Environmental Accreditation and Labelling Alliance (ISEAL) on how to develop and implement a certification standard. The 2020 Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standard was published after two separate rounds of public consultations, which included more than 50 workshops worldwide, resulting in the latest, published version.
The producers in Latin America were asked for feedback during both consultations, as well as farm workers, trade associations, trade unions, local NGOs, retailers, traders and other relevant stakeholders. The feedback from the public consultations and the several meetings with the banana sector last year, were analyzed by the Rainforest Alliance Standards Committee, which is composed primarily of external members representing stakeholders from various sectors certified by the Rainforest Alliance (i.e. coffee, tea, cocoa, rooibos, bananas, hazelnuts, etc.). This committee is responsible for discussing the feedback received during the multi-stakeholder consultations, and for deciding which of these can be incorporated into the standard, which sets a baseline level for sustainable agriculture across multiple commodities and geographies. The standards committee and the Rainforest Alliance Board also approved draft and final versions of standards. The final version was launched in June 2020. Between July 2020 and mid-2021, the Rainforest Alliance will roll out the new program around the world, including a comprehensive training plan.
Following the stakeholder consultations on the new standard and several meetings with the banana sector last year, we conclude that all inputs of the banana sector have been taken into consideration and most led to adjustments of the final version of the standard. We are aware that many sectors, including the banana sector, will require specific support with interpretation and guidance for implementation of the requirements of the new standard, Comprehensive guidance is currently being developed and will be made available to all stakeholders during the rollout phase. We thank you for the technical follow-up meetings which have positively contributed to the analysis of concerns, clarification of and adapting ambiguities around the new standard, as well as fine-tuning some criteria. These discussions will greatly assist us in developing relevant guidance for Banana producers and supply chain actors and relevant policies to support implementation such as the Policy on the transition period to the 2020 certification system for banana certificate holders.
2. How can small banana farms achieve certification?
The 2020 Sustainable Agriculture Standard continues to differentiate between smallholders and large producers. The standard treats small and large farms differently so that each producer type can focus on topics that are most relevant for their situation. For example, for large producers, there is a stronger focus in the core requirements on social issues related to workers as well as on certain environmental topics that are more relevant to large farming systems. Usually small farms can’t afford to be certified individually and work in groups to share the cost and administrative workload of certification. They rely on the group management for record development and record keeping. This is why, for smallholders, the standard gives special attention to strengthening group management capacity over time.
The 2020 Standard has been tested and the result of the pilot testing shows that, like the previous standard, the new standard is implementable for the thousands of smallholders in our current program. The 2017 Standard is used by smallholders in many regions where the average size of smallholder landholding and production volumes are much smaller than those of the banana smallholders in Latin America. The 30-meter buffer zone, in case of aerial spraying next to public roads and areas of human activity, was already in the 2017 Standard. The 30-meter buffer zone in case of aerial spraying, however, is a concern to smallholders, and as such we are looking into customized solutions.
3. What are the benefits of the Rainforest Alliance certification in the countries with strong local laws?
The Rainforest Alliance operates a certification standard system on the principle that sustainability is a journey of continuous, data-informed improvement rather than a binary pass/fail model.
The 2020 Certification Program is a global voluntary sustainable standard that respects and is compatible with local legislations. However, there are instances when it goes beyond these legislations, where it is in line with global sustainability best practices designed to protect communities, workers and the environment. Of course, national legislation always needs to be complied with. The Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standard includes goals that go beyond the local law in some countries, in which case the strictest rule applies.
Two independent impact studies from the banana sector in Latin America show that Rainforest Alliance Certified farms:
- implement better environmental management practices (Ecuador)
- have safer working conditions, higher worker wages, and higher yields (Colombia)
For more information on the impacts of the Rainforest Alliance certification in banana and other sectors, please see our 2019 Impacts Report.
4. Is the new standard more costly to implement?
The scope of the standard has not significantly changed. Rather, the new program aims to strengthen the quality of implementation. The new standard does not impose additional costs directly on producers compared to the former standard. Pilots and early implementers’ experience have demonstrated that the standard is implementable and practicable.
5. Why is the Rainforest Alliance introducing the Sustainability Differential?
The Shared Responsibility chapter of the new standard envisions to share not only the risks but also the value of sustainability. Sustainability is a journey and continuously requires investments to increase the sustainability on the farm, for producers, workers and the environment. Producers would like to see these investments shared with the supply chain. The Rainforest Alliance has listened to those concerns and we recognize that to make sectors truly sustainable, all supply chain actors have a role to play to not only share the value but also the risks. We have addressed this by outlining two requirements in our 2020 Program for the buying companies of Rainforest Alliance Certified commodities with the new Sustainability Differential and Sustainability Investments. With this innovation, we are moving towards a new system where responsibility for sustainable production is shared across the entire supply chain. The living wage commitment made by several major retailers can also be channeled through the standard and traceability systems.
If first buying companies do not comply with this condition, it will not lead to decertification for producers, nor are producers required to pay for the differential themselves.
You can find more questions about the Sustainability Differential and Sustainability Investments answered in our FAQ on Supply Chain Requirements.
6. What can farms use the received Sustainability Differential for?
There are no limitations on what smallholders can use the Sustainability Differential for. The Sustainability Differential received by farms of medium and large size and individual certificate holders (CHs) must be used to directly benefit the workers as it is meant as a reward for the efforts made to achieve sustainable production. The use is agreed in consultation between the CH and a legitimate representative of their farm workers. Categories of use of the SD may be related to worker wellbeing criteria in the standard, such as wages, working conditions, health and safety, housing, or other.
You can find more questions about the Sustainability Differential and Sustainability Investments answered in our FAQ on Supply Chain Requirements.
7. What’s the Rainforest Alliance’s approach to pesticides?
For over 30 years, the Rainforest Alliance has been working on limiting the exposure of farm workers, surrounding communities, and nature to harmful pesticides—an essential part of sustainable agriculture. The Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standard has always included requirements on reducing the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
The 2020 Sustainable Agriculture Standard continues to use the concept of integrated pest management (IPM) that allows for the targeted use of safe pesticides when pests are causing economic damage. The goal of the Rainforest Alliance’s IPM strategy is to guide farms in developing robust plans to control pests naturally (with pesticides used as a last resort) and to improve ecosystem resilience. It requires farmers to use biological alternatives where possible and reduce their overall use of pesticides. The standard strictly prohibits the use of the most hazardous pesticides, as well as agrochemicals prohibited by applicable local law or not legally registered in the country of use. It also prohibits all genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standard promotes more resilient agro-ecosystems where there is less need for the use of pesticides.