Chai tea, cinnamon buns and snickerdoodles would all want for flavor without the aromatic bark of thecinnamomum burmannii tree. The bark of the evergreen cinnamon tree—known as kayu manis, or sweet wood, in Indonesian—is harvested, dried and ground into a fine powder to make one of the world’s most popular spices.
Now, the spice is sweeter than ever with the introduction of the world’s first Rainforest Alliance CertifiedTM cinnamon farms in Kerinci, Indonesia. Located on the island of Sumatra, Kerinci is an important center for global cinnamon production, as well as the home of Indonesia’s highest volcano and one of the few remaining pockets of habitat for the critically endangered Sumatran tiger.
This milestone certification was made possible with the help of Cassia Co-op, an Indonesian cinnamon exporter whose European branch markets and distributes Rainforest Alliance Certified cinnamon to an international base of customers.
A Crop Requiring Patience
Cinnamon is harvested just once every 10 to 15 years, so most producers see only two or three harvests in their lifetime. The earliest the first harvest can take place is eight years after planting, when young trees yield about 5 kgs (11 lbs) of dry cinnamon. At this stage, the tree’s thin bark naturally curls into tight rolls which are sold as “cinnamon sticks” in grocery stores. Production increases and bark thickens over time -- improving the concentration of volatile oils and giving cinnamon a richer, more intense flavor.
Like bamboo, cinnamon is an inherently sustainable crop. Cinnamon forests grow naturally, without the aid of agrochemicals, and are intercropped with other trees. Locals call cinnamon the “grass of Kerinci” because it begins to grow back almost immediately after it is cut.
Most Indonesian cinnamon farmers grow their trees on small, remote parcels of land (known asbidangs) alongside other native species like surian, jati and malaku. They consider their cinnamon to be a “savings account,” hiring a team to harvest their forests only when additional income is necessary. A farmer might, for example, utilize his cinnamon to finance a family wedding.
It takes 10 full-time workers about one month to harvest all of the cinnamon on a bidang. A typical harvest yields about 450 kgs (1,000 lbs) of cinnamon, but production can vary greatly depending on the age of cinnamon trees. Since plots are usually located outside of villages, water buffalo are used to transport the bark to collection points in villages.
Certification and Cinnamon
While cinnamon farms are typically good neighbors to wildlife and the environment, they often lack efficiency and organization. For 268 cinnamon farmers in Kerinci, meeting the requirements of Rainforest Alliance certification has led to unprecedented levels of farmer organization and greater supply chain transparency. In order to earn certification, Cassia Co-op implemented a robust internal management and organization system that brings benefits to both the farms and the local environment. They have, for example, carefully mapped every farmer’s individual plot of land to ensure that, as other farmers join the group, the farm clusters form wildlife corridors to protect Sumatran tiger habitat.
Cinnamon typically changes many hands before reaching the processing centers where it is cleaned, sorted and prepared for export. In Kerinici, Rainforest Alliance certification has minimized the complexity of the supply chain and increased transparency. Today, all certified farms in the region sell their cinnamon to Cassia Co-op via a single collector, who has been trained in the Sustainable Agriculture Network Standard (required for Rainforest Alliance certification). Cassia Co-op pays the harvesters premium prices and helps to maintain traceability in the supply chain. Local workers say they prefer Rainforest Alliance Certified cinnamon plots because they are paid 9 percent more per kg harvested on this land.
The decision to support certification was perfectly in line with Cassia Co-op’s business philosophy. “We believe that sustainability starts with a fair and efficient supply chain,” explains Patrick Barthelemy, one of the cooperative’s founding members. “Rainforest Alliance certification focuses on benefitting the growers while emphasizing the protection of the local environment.”