Sustainable Agriculture Network / Rainforest Alliance Theory of Change and Monitoring and Evaluation Framework

A “Theory of Change” is a logical framework that defines the means by which a mission-driven organization seeks to achieve its core goals and objectives through targeted sets of activities or investments.

In the case of the Rainforest Alliance, these activities and investments—such as farmer training and certification—are intended to contribute to improved farming practices, management systems, and farmer knowledge. These results are, in turn, expected to contribute to improved biodiversity conservation, natural resources, farm productivity and profitability, and the well-being of farmers, workers, and their families.

Cocoa farmer training in Guatemala

Cocoa farmer training in Guatemala

Photo credit: Sergio Izquierdo

When this theory of change logic plays out fully, improved sustainability at the field level benefits not only local producers and their neighbors, but also companies and consumers up the value chain. These benefits support a positive feedback loop whereby companies realize significant value from sustainable sourcing and therefore choose to invest more in increasing the sustainability of their supply base. At the same time, best practices are replicated and scaled up as neighbors, governments, and other stakeholders see the benefit of sustainable agriculture. These relationships are elaborated further in this diagram.

Our theory of change provides a clear guiding framework not only for the standard-setting process but also for monitoring, evaluating, and reporting the effects of the certification system. A comprehensive set of system-wide indicators has been designed specifically for this purpose. These indicators are specified according to evaluation good practice, such as applicable “SMART” guidelines, which specify that indicators should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Indicators are organized by the three levels at which we collect data and analyze results, described here. Wherever possible and appropriate, our indicators align with indicators or indicator frameworks developed and tested by the community of practice of sustainability standards systems, researchers, private companies, and NGOs involved in developing sustainability performance measures for agricultural production systems and value chains.

More detail and the full list our indicators can be found in Annex C of the SAN/Rainforest Alliance Impacts Report. The compliance of Rainforest Alliance’s Monitoring and Evaluation system with the requirements of the ISEAL Impacts Code is described in this report.

Ramon nut, a sustainable superfood - photo by Sergio Izquierdo

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