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After a decade of support by activists and farmers and growing interest among gourmet consumers, certified sustainable coffee has become almost a staple in the specialty coffee sector. In recent weeks, certified sustainable brew entered the mainstream. Procter & Gamble’s Millstone Coffee began offering Rainforest Alliance Signature Roast, Mountain Moonlight Fair Trade Certified and Cup of Excellence Signature Roast on a special web site. Another mainstream company, Citigroup, adopted sustainable coffee for its employees. At select Citigroup offices around the nation, coffee drinkers will now have the opportunity to linger during their breaks over cups of 100% Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee. The deal was a cooperative effort of the global financial services company in cooperation with ARAMARK, a worldwide managed services provider, and Java City, the specialty coffee supplier.

And in a move that will change the debate about whether certified sustainable coffee suits the needs of mainstream companies, Kraft Foods and Rainforest Alliance announced a new partnership where the global leader in coffee sales will immediately begin purchasing Rainforest Alliance Certified beans by the container. Kraft Foods Inc. is the largest branded food and beverage company headquartered in the U.S. worldwide

In an unprecedented multi-year arrangement, Kraft Foods has committed to purchase over 5 million pounds of coffee in the first year from farms in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Central America that have been certified as sustainably managed. Ongoing monitoring and verification of compliance by these farms will be provided by Rainforest Alliance and members of the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN). The SAN is a coalition of conservation and rural development NGOs with expert staff specially trained to audit farms according to social and environmental standards.

The new partnership, under development for more than a year, commits Kraft Foods to increasing purchases of certified coffee, paying more to farmers that employ sustainable farm management practices, and importantly, deepening the company’s engagement with coffee producing communities.

Certified coffee will be integrated into Kraft standard coffee blends such as Maxwell House and Jacobs.

Kraft’s commitment to mixing more and more certified beans into mainstream coffee is what makes this program unique. For the first time, a coffee industry leader is incorporating sustainability into its sourcing policies and allowing an independent, third party certification program to verify progress.

“The Rainforest Alliance and Kraft Foods have been addressing social, economic and environmental issues in coffee production for many years. Given Kraft’s global leadership in coffee sales, this partnership is the first indisputable evidence that the concept of sustainability, once limited to niche markets, is ready to enter the mainstream. This signals an institutional change,” said Tensie Whelan, executive director of the Rainforest Alliance. She added, “With this landmark commitment from Kraft Foods, we will be able to demonstrate that coffee farming can be environmentally friendly, equitable and profitable.”

In addition to purchasing certified coffee, Kraft Foods will support further development of the Sustainable Agriculture Network, including the training of local specialists to coach farmers in achieving certification. In addition, the Rainforest Alliance will train local auditors and continue building alliances among farmers, NGOs, coffee associations and agriculture research institutions.

Frank Hicks, director of the Rainforest Alliance’s sustainable agriculture program in Costa Rica said, “Until now, the conventional wisdom was that sustainability was too complicated or too expensive for mainstream coffee companies. Together with Kraft, we’re about to prove that sustainable sourcing policies are not only possible, but essential to the future of the coffee business.”

Hicks noted that many projects aim at just one piece of the puzzle - low prices or quality, for example. “Ecologists understand that everything is linked to everything else, and in this program, we will attend to all the linkages and better distribute responsibilities and benefits among all the actors, from farmers and farm workers through the supply chain to the consumer.”

Farm-gate prices for the certified coffee will vary with quality, consistency and other factors, as usual; Kraft expects to pay as much as 20% more for the beans. Rainforest Alliance, Kraft, exporters, the NGO members of the SAN and other participants will work with farmers to review differentials for sustainability. For example, a regional program in Central America and the Dominican Republic, sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development, is already studying ways to help farmers better estimate their production costs.

While the program will benefit farmers, farm workers and their families, the Rainforest Alliance is also interested in the environmental benefits of well-managed coffee farms.

“We have already demonstrated that certified farms can be havens for wildlife and good places to work, as well as economically viable and outstanding community citizens,” said Juan Marco Alvarez, executive director of SalvaNATURA, a member of the SAN in El Salvador.

He added, “This partnership with Kraft Foods will allow us to expand the reach of the program to help us bring the benefits of certification to the hundreds of farms already in the pipeline throughout Latin America.”

According to Simon Antonio Chavez, the manager of Las Lajas, one of the co-operatives certified by SalvaNATURA, the partnership offers promise for farmers in the region. “This news motivates us. The certification program has helped us in protecting nature and makes life better for the families in the co-operative. We are glad to hear that a big company like Kraft is now buying certified coffee.”

This certification program is designed to engage farms of all sizes, from small family farms to cooperatives to large estates. In Brazil, the SAN partner IMAFLORA has certified Daterra, an estate with outstanding social and environmental protection programs. With a growing portfolio of certified farms in different countries, the SAN can provide a variety of coffee qualities, characteristics and origins.

The partnership is the latest initiative in Kraft’s long-standing commitment to coffee farmers. “Kraft Foods has been promoting sustainability for more than a decade, most notably in Colombia, Peru and Vietnam. Our partnership with the Rainforest Alliance is another way for us to further strengthen sustainability in coffee production. Combining economic stability with environmental protection and decent social standards is an important way to ensure a long-term future for the world’s coffee community,” said Annemieke Wijn, Kraft Foods’ senior director for Commodity Sustainability Programs.

For 15 years, the Rainforest Alliance has been an international leader in verifying compliance with standards for ecofriendly and socially responsible farming and forestry. The Rainforest Alliance believes that a long-term solution to the problems in the coffee producing areas will only be found in a strategy that embraces all three pillars of sustainability - economic, ecology and ethics.

The Sustainable Agriculture Network standards cover all three of the interlocking sustainability sectors. The standards are rigorous, comprehensive and verifiable. In order to gain certification, farmers must conserve forests and other natural ecosystems; protect wildlife; control pollution and agrochemical use; properly manage soil, water and wastes; provide safe conditions, good basic services and fair pay to workers; and maintain good relations with the local community.

The farmers benefit from improved management and efficiencies as well as the opportunity to leverage a better price for their beans. Workers and family members benefit from improved conditions, safety and services. Wildlife finds habitat and refuge, and consumers enjoy better taste in the cup. As certified coffee goes mainstream, large companies such as Kraft and Procter & Gamble will investigate the business benefits of integrating sustainability into their supply chain.

Read about how sustainable certified coffee is traded and finding its way into retail markets in our next issue.

For more information, visit: www.rainforest-alliance.org, www.millstone.com, and www.kraft.com.

Tea & Coffee - November/December, 2003


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