The Rainforest Alliance and Nespresso have worked together for a decade to help farmers produce sustainable, high-quality coffee that enables them to improve their livelihoods and steward the natural resources on which they depend. Today, more than 56,000 farmers are part of the AAA Program and have benefited from greatly improved yields and great improvements in the quality of the coffee they grow, while also implementing comprehensive conservation practices on their farms.
A growing number of these AAA farmers have achieved the required Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) Standard and are gaining Rainforest Alliance certification. A recent independent study by the Colombian organization CRECE assessed the social, environmental and economic impacts among 1,000 farmers in the AAA Program, including those that have earned Rainforest Alliance certification. The study found that farmers in the AAA Program had a net income 87.4 percent higher than the control group. Some 32 percent of the control farms were categorized as poor according to the Multidimensional Poverty Index, versus 18 percent on the AAA/Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms.
The researchers studied more than 50 variables over two harvest seasons on 1,000 AAA and Rainforest Alliance Certified farms and 563 control farms, correlated them into environmental, social and economic indices and found that 67 percent of the AAA/Rainforest Alliance Certified farms had better social conditions versus 53 percent of the control group, 59 percent of the AAA/ Rainforest Alliance Certified farms had better economic conditions versus 39 percent of the control group and 79 percent of the AAA/Rainforest Alliance Certified farms had better environmental conditions versus 48 percent of the control group.
Nespresso farmers were more than seven times as likely to employ waste-water management as the control group. They recycled at a rate 50 percent higher than local farmers who had not been trained by the Rainforest Alliance. And they were more likely to employ soil conservation methods on their farms. Coffee leaf rust was better controlled among AAA farmers, with control farmers demonstrating an average infestation rate of 20 percentage points higher.
These results owe much to the comprehensive farm management system developed by the Sustainable Agriculture Network and the Rainforest Alliance and complemented by Nespresso’s experience in quality and agronomic expertise. The extensive farmer training and investments by Nespresso, its suppliers, the Colombian Coffee Growers Association, and the Rainforest Alliance’s local partners, such as Fundacion Natura in Colombia, also played its part. As did the excellent prices paid by Nespresso for the high quality coffee produced and most importantly the enthusiasm of the farmers themselves in improving their practices and ensuring their own sustainability for the future.
Tackling the environmental, social and financial management issues in coffee landscapes is critical. The coffee bought by Nespresso is generally produced by small farmers with very limited income, often using low productivity and low quality methods of production. These farmers are living in areas rich in biodiversity, but these areas also represent some of the most fragile ecosystems on earth, where water, soil, and wildlife are threatened by unsustainable activities including farming.
Speaking of her experience of meeting some of the Colombian coffee farmers who are part of the AAA Program, Tensie Whelan, president of the Rainforest Alliance, commented, “A young farmer told me that most of his friends had left for the cities as coffee growing was seen as old fashioned and not something one wanted to do as a younger person. But this farmer also explained that as a result of our work together, he had come to realize that he was protecting the world’s patrimony, providing sustainable jobs and being a social entrepreneur. And he thought that he could bring some of his friends back with that kind of message.”
The success of the AAA Program shows the importance of a holistic approach to farm management. Social, environmental and economic challenges are all intertwined and so solutions must be equally integrated. It is this integration that goes to the heart of, and makes real, the true meaning of sustainable agriculture. Together, the Rainforest Alliance, Nespresso and farmers have come a long way. But the AAA Program has much more to do: expanding into Africa, experimenting with new water conservation techniques and gathering more insights into the linkages between healthy ecosystems and economic growth that doesn’t cost the Earth. Axiomatic to that challenge is the partnership announced today with Pur Projet to promote extensive planting of native trees in the coffee regions and the development of effective agroforestry opportunity allowing farmers to diversify their income and build their resilience to climate change.
Thanks to our collaboration, Nespresso customers around the world can enjoy their coffee knowing that they are helping farmers to achieve better standards of living and protect unique tropical environments.
We look forward to the next 10 years as we work to extend the AAA Program to more farmers, add programs that will help to mitigate climate change and conserve water, explore new ways to help producers improve their livelihoods and protect their lands. And to provide consumers with high-quality, sustainably produced coffee.