Interview by Katiana Murillo, Rainforest Alliance
“We hope to have 10 percent of global coffee exports sold as Rainforest Alliance Certified in seven years.”
In May 2006, the Rainforest Alliance will launch a project to conserve biodiversity in coffee, supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with a Global Environment Facility (GEF) grant. This project aims to transform the global coffee market over seven years by strengthening the conservation of sustainable biodiversity-friendly coffee cultivation and helping small coffee farmers in major coffee-producing countries in Latin America. We talked about this project with Leif Pederson, the project manager for the Rainforest Alliance.
Question: Tell me about the Biodiversity Conservation in Coffee project?
Pedersen: The project was approved in November 2005 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to receive a grant from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the largest funding mechanism for environmental projects. This 12 million dollar biodiversity conservation project will support the development of the Rainforest Alliance coffee certification program over seven years. As a result, the sustainable coffee program will grow significantly. The program has already grown quite a bit, but this project will contribute even more.
The project focuses on two main areas: to increase the demand for certified coffee by encouraging coffee companies to add value to their brands by including Rainforest Alliance Certified and helping them in their marketing efforts; and to ensure that we can meet the growing demand for certified coffee. More demand will mean increasing the volume of certified coffee.
Q: Is one of the goals of the project to increase the quality of coffee as well as the supply?
Pedersen: We don’t certify the quality of coffee; we only certify best practices for coffee production that meets social and environmental standards. The demand for coffee varies according to its type. If the demand is for high quality coffee, then we will ensure that this requirement is met.
Q: Where will this project be carried out?
Pedersen: We will work in six important coffee-producing countries: Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia, Brazil, and Peru. Each of these countries has its own particular characteristics. We work with these countries to ensure that the production will grow to meet the demand.
Q: Why did GEF decide to fund the project?
Pedersen: GEF is funding our biodiversity conservation project because sustainable coffee standards ensure favorable conditions for wildlife and ecosystems. A Rainforest Alliance Certified farm provides a good habitat for animals, supports the ecosystem, and ensures species survival. Studies have shown that most species in a natural ecosystem can survive in a coffee plantation when it is managed with sustainable practices. It’s for these reasons that UNDP and GEF have decided to invest in Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee.
Q: What are the goals of the project?
Pedersen: The goals are very ambitious. We hope to certify 10 percent of global production within seven years; right now, we are certifying 1 percent. We believe this is possible; it does mean that the program needs to grow a great deal, but it has already begun to experience rapid growth.
This project is also aimed at encouraging policy-makers to support sustainable practices. We expect to have political support in the European Union.
The project also plans to monitor and document the impact of coffee plantations on biodiversity. Studies have shown high biodiversity on coffee plantations managed according to Rainforest Alliance standards as compared to non-certified farms. The studies show that most of the species in an ecosystem can survive on a farm managed according to environmental sustainability criteria. We plan to carry out a monitoring program to measure how biodiversity has benefited from certification.
When farmers use production methods that are in harmony with the local ecosystem, it benefits the biodiversity as well.
Q: What are the main challenges to growth?
Pedersen: The main challenge is developing market demand. Although our work with coffee companies has been successful, we need to strengthen the demand for certified coffee in order to encourage farmers to implement sustainable management practices. As the consumer demand for Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee grows in international markets, farmers become more interested in certification because it creates opportunities to reach international markets.
Q: Where are the sustainable coffee markets?
Pedersen: Sustainable coffee is consumed around the world but the main markets are in North America, Europe, and Japan. Our certification program appeals to everyone; we don’t limit ourselves to a certain marketing niche. In coffee-producing countries, many farmers depend on their national market. In Brazil, for example, the national coffee market is second in importance after the United States, so we plan to promote Rainforest Alliance Certified in the Brazilian market.
Q: What is the Sustainable Agriculture Network’s role?
Pedersen: By working through the Rainforest Alliance’s partners in the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), the project will strengthen technical assistance for the farmers in the countries participating in the project. The project will pay close attention to strengthening the capacities of the farmers.
Q: Do all the countries participating in the project expect to receive benefits from this project?
Pedersen: Five of the seven countries we will be working in are well prepared, thanks to our local SAN partners. These are solid organizations with many years of experience in conservation and sustainable development. We will also be hiring experts to provide assistance and increase our involvement in the different areas.
We would like to be more involved in Peru. Our strategy there will be different because we would like to establish a permanent project. We are already granting certification, but we want to increase our presence there and this project will help us do so.
Our involvement in other countries is good, but we need to strengthen the organizational structure to manage the expansion of our coffee certification program. We would like to be able to use the same structure within the Rainforest Alliance and SAN after the project has ended.