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What is Rainforest Alliance Certification for Coffee?

Key Takeaways

  • The Rainforest Alliance is a NGO that seeks to protect rainforests around the world by addressing deforestation, primarily by promoting sustainable agriculture practices.

  • Rainforest Alliance certification ensures that a farm and/or product meets quality standards and farming practices that involve being environmentally friendly and economically sustainable.

  • Supporting RA certified coffee ensures sustainability, traceability, often a higher quality product, and above all that what you consume aligns with your values.

Rainforest Alliance Certification Seal

What Does Rainforest Alliance Certified Mean?

The Rainforest Alliance Certification Program, and its accompanying little frog seal, indicates that your coffee has met rigorous standards designed to uphold economic, social, and ecological sustainability. To earn this certification, a product has to comply with criteria that emphasize responsible land management, fair treatment of workers, and economic viability of businesses.

When you see the Rainforest Alliance seal it means that coffee farmers are getting their fair share, and that coffee was sourced from Rainforest Alliance certified farms.

What Is The Rainforest Alliance?

The Rainforest Alliance is a non-government organization (NGO) that promotes the preservation of rainforest and woodlands globally in the pursuit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, human rights abuses, and ultimately a cleaner, more sustainable environment.

The Rainforest Alliance leans into three elements of sustainability: social, economic, and environmental. The group uses independent, third-party auditors to evaluate farmers against these "pillars" before awarding or renewing certification.

The Rainforest Alliance website describes four standards that focus on:

Forests: These ecological powerhouses are critical to the survival of every living thing on Earth. Our training and certification programs promote best practices for protecting standing forests, preventing the expansion of cropland into forests; fostering the health of trees, soils, and waterways; and protecting native forests.

Climate: Standing forests are a powerful natural climate solution. Our certification programs promote responsible land management methods that increase carbon storage while avoiding deforestation, which fuels greenhouse gas emissions. The climate-smart practices embedded in our agricultural training and certification programs help farmers to build resilience to droughts, flooding, and erosion.

Human Rights: Certification advances the rights of rural people. Although no certification program can provide a guarantee against human rights abuses, our standard and assurance systems provide robust strategies for assessing and addressing child labor, forced labor, poor working conditions, low wages, gender inequality, and the violation of Indigenous land rights. Independent studies demonstrate that workers on certified farms are more likely to have better working conditions, personal protective gear, and labor protections.

Livelihoods: Our approach is based on the understanding that ecosystem health and the economic stability of rural communities are mutually dependent. Improving sustainable livelihood opportunities for smallholder farmers and forest communities is the most effective way to lift rural people out of poverty, and certification has proven to bring measurable financial benefits to farmers and forest communities around the world.

Why Rainforests are Critical to Global Ecosystems

Among other things, rainforests act as biodiversity hotspots, help regulate climate change, and produce a substantial amount of the earth's oxygen. So yes, every breath you take is in part thanks to a rainforest.

One of the main issues that the rainforest alliance tackles is deforestation. Basically, large forests or rainforests are removed to make room for crops, leading to a permanent damage to our biosphere.

Rainforest Alliance certified farms don't deforest, but instead use sustainable agriculture that is monitored through re-certification annually.

How Do Coffee Farms Qualify for Rainforest Alliance Certification?

For Rainforest Alliance certified coffee, coffee farms must adhere to strict criteria that focus on environmental sustainability as well as economic sustainability.

They must preserve the surrounding biodiversity by maintaining forested areas, and the soil health by using natural fertilizers and avoiding synthetic inputs. Water conservation and waste management is also a big deal, as preventing water pollution can mean life or death in certain forest communities in South America, for example. Coffee farmers must also conform to social standards that include fair wages and safe working conditions. They should also engage with the local community and contribute to broader well-being.

Coffee growers must try to ensure the economic stability of farmers, as well as that of the farm itself. That trickles down to coffee roasters, too.

To actually certify, companies and farms must go through a long process of assessment and verification, which involves getting audited many times.

What are the benefits of buying Rainforest Alliance Certified Coffee?

Mainly, supporting sustainable practices and ensuring you get high quality coffee. The goal is to be conscious of what you consume so as to reduce the global impact of harmful practices. Supporting Rainforest Alliance certification also drives demand for sustainable practices.

If you like knowing where "what you drink" comes from, supporting coffee growers that have achieved Rainforest Alliance certification is a good bet in terms of traceability.

How does buying Rainforest Alliance Certified products help farmers and the environment?

Short answer: yes. Mainly due to the fact that you're making sure workers are paid fair wages and that growers are committed to supporting their community.

For example, to keep within standards, a farm can't employ children, and workers receive ongoing training and education to make them more competitive.

What's the Best Rainforest Alliance Certified Coffee?

The best way to ensure you buy the highest quality coffee out there is to source it from reputable vendors that care about the people behind their product!

Here at Philly Fair Trade, we work with some Rainforest Alliance certified farms to ensure we're providing some the best responsibly-grown coffee in the market.

Our Rainforst Alliance Certified Colombian coffee, for example, is nurtured in the famous Kachalu region. It stands as the second-largest producer of coffee in the world, despite only fourteen cooperative family farms working here. They are aligned with the Rainforest Alliance and our coffees from the region are also Certified Organic.

While not every one of our coffees is Rainforest Alliance certified (after all, not all coffees are grown in ares with deforestation issues), we still take care in working with farmers and grower cooperatives that strive for strong environmental and community standards.

Try our organic, fair trade coffee yourself, or follow us on Instagram and Facebook to learn more!

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