Editor’s note: Our guest authors today highlight work that marries climate change and sustainable supply chains. Rainforest Alliance and the Sustainable Agriculture Network standard, along with its climate module, are operating at the farm level up along the supply chain to achieve landscape-scale benefits for producers and the environment under a changing climate. Ghanaian cocoa provides an example of how this is currently playing out.
How can we simultaneously conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land use practices, business practices, and consumer behaviour? At The Rainforest Alliance (RA) we do this by promoting best practices actively up and down many global supply chains. In fact, major crops certified under the Rainforest Alliance seal have grown rapidly in the past 10 years – going from niche to mainstream – as 5% of the world’s coffee, 10% of cocoa, 11.5% of tea and 21% of exported bananas are RA certified. This represents nearly 1 million farmers and 3 million hectares of farmland. In addition, RA has helped to conserve over 75 million hectares of forests globally according to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards.
So how does climate smart agriculture (CSA) fit into the picture?
We see CSA as a bundle of strategies that aim to increase productivity and resilience at the farm and community level, reduce GHG emissions or enhance sequestration, and address the pressures and risks to farmer livelihoods posed by climate change. Because people who depend heavily on agriculture and natural resources as part of their livelihoods are disproportionately affected by climate change, we see CSA as a necessity. Increasingly, our work with local communities and businesses will need to help farmers, and entire supply chains, become more resilient and adapt to climate change.
But what does our little frog do to achieve this?
No single approach, be it focusing on mitigating climate change or focusing on increasing adaptive capacity, can fulfil the tall order that is expected of CSA. By its definition climate smart agriculture must be holistic, depending on a number of interwoven strategies. The Rainforest Alliance seal is found only on products that meet the rigorous standards of the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN). This in turn encourages farms to analyse and consequently alleviate environmental and social risks caused by agricultural activities through a process that also motivates continual improvement, and forms a foundation for CSA.
Many of the SAN criteria necessary for certification already promote CSA practices, and can be enhanced through the voluntary add-on Climate Module. Soil and water conservation and or shade diversification in agroforestry crops reduce risks from climate change impacts. Shade cover and protection for forests and natural ecosystems reduces emissions, as does improving efficient use of agricultural inputs. With the SAN standards currently being revised to strengthen the climate criteria, we expect that RA certification will contribute even more to a complete and holistic approach to CSA in the coming years.
Can certified farms scale up to create sustainable landscapes?
By focusing on entire value chains, the Rainforest Alliance model is to create sustainable landscapes, harnessing the transformative power of markets. By engaging leading food companies who make commitments to increase sourcing of climate-smart, sustainable products along their supply chains, the number of farmers involved in a particular origin can jump from a few hundred to a few hundred thousand. When these producers are adopting best practices of climate adaptation and mitigation and spread widely across a landscape, then the interventions including climate smart practices, can lead to impacts at the landscape level.
An example of a landscape approach to CSA
The Juabeso-Bia landscape project in Ghana is a novel program in Ghana that is emphasizing improvement in the cocoa agroforestry production systems through certification and supply chain interests. This landscape approach is being piloted to mitigate business risk in the cocoa value chain, with a goal to ensure that climate smart farm level practices are escalated and replicated across a growing cluster of farms so that the 36,000 hectare landscape is eventually following similar best management practices. The project has been a partnership between Olam International, Rainforest Alliance, USAID, NORAD, and thousands of farmers.
For the farmer, the benefits have been the technical assistance that builds on-farm capacity to adopt best practices of climate change mitigation and adaptation, enabling transition to climate-smart agriculture and increased agro-ecosystem resilience. For Olam, this offered an opportunity to bring climate friendly cocoa to the market and build its reputation as a proactive ‘first-mover’. Other benefits may include the strengthening of supply chain resiliency as communities gain understanding of the concepts of sustainably managing a landscape as opposed to only a single farm and also in breaking the link between cocoa production and deforestation. This should also lead to reducing overall operational risks due to climate change and resource security and a more broad learning exercise to change and improve corporate programs in general. And, by assisting producers to meet the SAN standards for climate mitigation, verifiable means to achieve quantifiable GHG reductions within the supply chain carbon footprint are possible.
Farmer training and climate education in communities was the central focus of activities. As part of this, a tailored climate smart cocoa farming guide was developed that helps farmers to assess the potential risks of climate change, to learn ways and practices to adapt and mitigate at farm and community level, and to prepare them for SAN certification. Reforestation of degraded land and workshops on establishing more diverse livelihood opportunities (e.g. bee keeping and grasscutter rearing) are already underway.
Certification to the SAN standards has led to an increase in yields, projected to continue over the long term. These Rainforest Alliance certified farms have also been verified to meet the SAN’s Climate Module, making them the first climate-smart RA cocoa. With sustainable cocoa cultivation practices and management in place and continuously improving and expanding, the benefits on the natural landscape are multiple. New technology, such as tablets, have helped to gather data at the landscape level and also played a crucial role when preparing the project design document (PDD) under the Community, Climate and Biodiversity Standard (CCBS). Using the CCBS has been a way to quantify how certification practices can enhance both climate benefits and livelihoods.
With the success of the work in Ghana, the Rainforest Alliance is looking to expand this approach to other landscapes. By replicating the approach applied and lessons learned we hope to use our experience and relationships to mobilise government institutions and policies to establish or strengthen conditions favourable for farmers to acquire new technologies, investment, and infrastructure.
At the same time we have to continue our work by educating consumers through bringing our information and learning forward in communications that will raise awareness from the producer to the consumer.
Photo credit: Martin Noponen (Rainforest Alliance)