Helping Companies Achieve a More Sustainable SourcingBy Jan Hogewoning | Tue, 07/28/2020 - 09:04
Q: The government’s agricultural agenda is focused on small producers. What role can Rainforest Alliance play in this approach?
A: Rainforest Alliance distinguishes itself through its work with small-scale producers, not just producers of agricultural goods but players across the whole value chain of different commodities and products. Our goal is to act as a bridge between the producers and the actor at the end of the chain, including international companies and the final consumer. As an NGO, we can assist the government with its programs. Mexico’s Sembrando Vida, which wants to help people produce using more sustainable, mixed agriculture-forest schemes, is one example where we can collaborate with the federal and state governments to generate technical capacities and entrepreneurial skills among producers. Our models of agriculture are climatically intelligent, sustainable and respectful of environmental conservation. We have signed collaboration agreements with the states of Jalisco, Quintana Roo and Chiapas. We are actively seeking a collaboration agreement with the Ministry of BIENESTAR specifically focused on Sembrando Vida. Especially while facing budgetary constraints, the assistance of an NGO is essential to keep things going.
Q: One of the criticisms of Sembrando Vida is that it does not create a sustainable economic model but one dependent on subsidies. How can you assist in making it economically viable?
A: Working together, we can be very successful at getting producers to deliver produce. But when you get to a certain level of production, what are the producers going to do with those products? If there is no well-defined market access strategy, people will be forced to sell it at very low prices or give the produce away for free. People will become demotivated. This is where we can make a difference. Our organization is very good at finding and building access to markets.
Q: What is your strategy to connect producers to companies and how successful have you been in Mexico?
A: We have a global strategy, a strategy for Latin America and strategies for each country in the region. In June 2019, we launched an initiative in Mexico called Mercados por un futuro sostenible (Markets for a Sustainable Future). One of the objectives was to include 50 companies, from SMEs to transnational companies, to work with them and all those in their supply chain to integrate more sustainable products, with different commodities such as coffee, cacao, fruits and products including both wood-based and non-wood-based materials. These commodities can be integrated into the supply chain as raw ingredients or as final products for the consumer. We have been signing memoranda of understanding with several companies. One example is TOKS, which has 220 restaurants across Mexico. It has already worked with a group of coffee and cacao producers in Oaxaca and Chiapas. However, we helped the producers to shift to good agricultural practices, from non-sustainable to sustainable, so they could be certified by Rainforest Alliance. We are a few months away from seeing all coffee served in TOKS restaurants certified with the Rainforest Alliance seal.
We are also working with Bimbo to certify one of their chocolate-icing plants. This includes introducing good practices among cacao producers and certifying their cacao. We are also working with IQCitrus to certify their citrus concentrates. We are going to sign a collaboration with Walmart. At the global level, we have collaborations with major companies, including Nestlé (and its Nespresso brand) and Unilever. For example, all the cacao used for Magnum ice cream that is produced in Mexico is produced by Rainforest Alliance-certified producers.
Our certification also has standards on labor conditions, income and social security for communities aimed at improving their lifestyle. In Mexico, we work with civil organizations, such as the Coordination of Oaxaca Coffee Producers (CEPCO) and Pronatura México. By the end of August or early September, we are going to launch a directory of sustainable products and commodities we are working with in Mexico, giving companies the opportunity to include them in their supply chain.
Q: What benefits does the Rainforest Alliance seal provide to companies?
A: There was a study a year and a half ago which looked at brand recognition of the Rainforest Alliance seal. In numerous countries, including the US, Canada, the EU and Australia, public recognition was found to be above 50 percent. Unfortunately, it is not the same in Latin America. Many of the products grown or made here end up being sold to the final consumer in another country. What we wanted to do is to accompany every collaboration with an aggressive communication strategy to inform the Mexican consumer about what is behind the seal, not just at the company level but also what the social, environmental and economic impacts are in the communities of producers. We have been helping Krispy Kreme and the convenience store chain 7-Eleven to communicate this message of what it means to have Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee.
Q: What is your stance on the Maya Train project and how could Rainforest Alliance work to ensure local communities benefit from it?
A: We do not have a political stance on this project. However, we would like to help to support local communities and act as a bridge with authorities. We have a pending meeting with government officials of the Maya Train project. There is a great deal of work to do, particularly with the ejidos of the Yucatan Peninsula, in Campeche and Quintana Roo, mostly. Ultimately, the ejidos are the owners of the land and the forest is a resource of the land.
One way to help is to include the ejidos in supplying resources for the construction of the project. The ejido communities of Jose Maria Morelos municipality in Quintana Roo have a long history of supplying railroad ties (sleepers) for train tracks. They can re-uptake that activity and do it in a responsible and certified way that benefits the community. Rainforest Alliance is trying to work with ejido associations. For example, we work with the association Alianza Selva Maya that comprises different ejidos in Quintana Roo and Campeche. We are also creating a relationship with an association of 14-15 ejidos in the municipality of Jose Maria Morelos in Quintana Roo. In Campeche, we are engaging with a group of eight to nine ejidos located in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve. By working in association, ejidos are better organized, gain a bigger voice and can also gain more opportunities in other areas, such as getting access to markets regionally, nationally and internationally.
Rainforest Alliance helps producers of agricultural products shift to environmentally, socially and economically sustainable models. It works with companies to integrate sustainable products and producers into their supply chain