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Rainforest Alliance certification and the quest for quality


As we move further into the third wave of coffee, the quality of the bean is more important than ever, but how is this quest for coffee perfection juxtaposed with the drive towards enhancing the sustainability of coffee agriculture, through certification processes such as that of the Rainforest Alliance?

Since its inception nearly 30 years ago, the Rainforest Alliance has sought to slow the rate of deforestation across the globe, with one of the biggest threats to the survival of the rainforests being mankind’s insatiable appetite for agricultural land.

Whilst the first Rainforest Alliance Certified farm grew bananas, the first coffee farm was certified in Guatemala in 1995. By 2013 over 118,000 coffee farms, covering 800,000 acres, had achieved certification, with 457,000 metric tons of certified coffee being grown in 2014.

Nature and people

Rainforest Alliance certification goes beyond the protection of natural forests. It includes measures to help protect wildlife and preserve precious water resources. Farmers are encouraged to maintain buffer zones around their plantations to prevent encroachment on forests and water sources. The maintenance of shade trees is important to both provide protection for other plants and animals in the area and to curtail soil erosion.

Waste water must be treated before being deposited back into the water table and efforts must be made to save energy, such as the use of wood saving stoves rather than open fires.

It is not just the environment that benefits from Rainforest Alliance certification. Growers must ensure that a minimum wage is paid to all workers and that they receive both fair treatment and good working conditions, including access to clean water and the provision of personal protective equipment where necessary.

Farmers are further encouraged to ensure the wellbeing of workers and their families by facilitating access to both education and healthcare.

The Rainforest Alliance firmly believe that improving the sustainability of coffee growing and enhancing the conditions of those who are involved in the day-to-day cultivation of the growing of the beans, can ultimately lead to an improvement in the quality of the resulting coffee.

They point to their regular ‘Cupping for Quality’ tasting events (the most recent attended by DRW’s own Priscilla Daniel) as an indication of the steady improvement in the quality of coffee beans from across the world since their certification was introduced.

“It’s no surprise to see the quality of coffees evaluated at our cupping events improve,” said Alex Morgan, the senior manager of sustainable agriculture at the Rainforest Alliance. “The cuppings enable us to help farmers identify areas for improvement. These farmers are going above and beyond, improving the quality of their beans while conserving natural resources, protecting wildlife habitat and supporting local communities.”

Leading the way

DRW has been at the forefront of introducing and promoting the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal in the UK since 2003 and was the first UK coffee importer to do so. In recognition of this work, DRW was awarded the Rainforest Alliance’s “Corporate Green Globe” award in the same year.

Rainforest Alliance certification is just one of the mechanisms we use to ensure that the coffee we trade is sourced in a socially responsible manner. Even where growers are not Rainforest Alliance Certified, DRW aims to build long-term relationships with them to support improvements in their methods, conditions and environmental impact, because this is a route to improving the quality of the coffee. Irrespective of the source and certification of the beans, they must meet DRW’s own stringent quality control standards, complete with our in-depth cupping sessions.

Ultimately, the goal of DRWakefield is to create a virtuous circle, where improvement in methods leads to better beans, better beans lead to more demand, and more demand allows further investment in improving methods.

To find out more about DR Wakefield’s commitment to social responsibility and sustainability, head here. Alternatively, take a look at the lengths to which DR Wakefield go to ensure the quality of our coffee.