What is biological diversity (or “biodiversity”)? It is the variety of life—from the thousands of bacteria that populate a lake to the giant otters, jaguars and armadillos found in a Peruvian national park. We’re celebrating the International Day of Biodiversity with an assortment of beautiful photos showcasing this year’s theme: water and biodiversity. It’s just a glimpse at the incredible biodiversity found on our Earth.
Archive for the ‘Biodiversity’ Category
We thought we’d celebrate by sharing facts and photos about a few of our favorite trees.
Discover more incredible biodiversity by exploring our species profiles.
The sweet, tangy passion fruit is more than a delicious treat for communities in the central highlands of Costa Rica. It is a vital source of income for farmers in Chitaría, who are now earning higher incomes and supporting local wildlife with the introduction of Rainforest Alliance certification and the support of Chiquita Fruit Solutions.
We thought the International Day of Forests was the perfect excuse to share a few beautiful photos of these biodiverse wonders.
International Women’s Day is an annual celebration of the achievements of women around the globe, emphasizing the need for continued sustainable change for women. This year, we are joining the celebration by highlighting a sustainability pioneer—Yunyan Huang, the female president and co-owner of China’s first Rainforest Alliance Certified™ tea estate.
Yunyan Huang’s unpretentious, inviting demeanor belies her standing as a pioneer in China’s male-dominated agricultural sector. She has earned this distinction as the president of Green Fountain Tea Estate, the first Rainforest Alliance Certified farm in China, which she owns with her sister Xiaowei.
Nestled in the mountains of Lincang, one of the most stunning landscapes in Yunnan Province, the thriving 2,400-acre (1,000-hectare) tea farm is a testament to Yunyan’s quiet drive and ambition. It comes as no surprise that Yunyan, who also goes by the name Helen, approached Rainforest Alliance certification as if she were on a mission. She hired an independent consultant to introduce her employees to the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) Standard in 2009, and the Green Fountain Tea Estate earned Rainforest Alliance certification three years later.
“We are proud to become the first farm in China to achieve Rainforest Alliance certification,” Yunyan says. “We hope to serve as a role model to other farms, demonstrating the importance of sustainability and the benefits that certification brings to the environment, workers and our livelihoods.”
Yunyan’s natural attention to detail prepared her well for the rigorous three-day Rainforest Alliance certification audit. The Rainforest Alliance team, led by auditor Annabelle Calicdan, spoke with Green Fountain’s management team, toured the estate grounds, manufacturing plant and health clinic, examined conservation areas and water resources, met with members of the surrounding community, and interviewed workers about their wages, treatment and experiences. The auditing team found the estate ready for certification, with a content workforce, a neighboring community grateful for additional employment opportunities, protected and publicly accessible water sources, and a newly planted forest canopy.
Green Fountain produces 1.1 million pounds (half a million kilograms) of tea annually—enough to fill 250 million single-serving teabags—for Unilever, the owner and manufacturer of Lipton. The farm’s journey to certification paves the way for other tea farms in China, the world’s largest producer and consumer of tea, where the expansion of the Rainforest Alliance program has the potential to impact millions of acres of tea-growing land and benefit many of the 80 million people working in its production. The Rainforest Alliance is also laying the groundwork to offer training and certification services to coffee farmers in China.
Venturing into a New Territory
Entry into China’s agricultural sector was a complex endeavor that presented challenges such as excessive agrochemical use, water scarcity and a shortage of workers caused by decades of mass migration from rural to urban areas. Prior to training and certification in a new country, the Rainforest Alliance consults a range of stakeholders to determine the best approach and the necessary infrastructure.
“We have worked carefully to establish the tea program in line with Chinese regulations, local culture, traditional practices and the local environment, building a strong foundation for the authentic implementation of Rainforest Alliance certification in China,” says Asia Pacific Senior Manager Walter Smith, who also attended the Green Fountain audit.
As part of its foundation-building work, the Rainforest Alliance has emphasized farmer education to highlight the dangers of agrochemicals, introduce farmers to alternative means of controlling pests and disease, and drive home the importance of personal protective equipment when there are no appropriate alternatives to pesticides. These messages can be difficult to convey in a country where many of the most hazardous agrochemicals are widely used (despite the presence of national laws for pesticides control), but the Rainforest Alliance has received a great deal of support from local government agencies in Yunnan Province, particularly the local government in Lincang.
The Rainforest Alliance is also working with farmers in Yunnan, which has recently been plagued by drought, to protect critical watershed areas and drought-proof farms. Noah Jackson, a lead trainer and auditor for the Rainforest Alliance, visited an uncertified farm in Yunnan and says the impact of water conservation was clear. “You can see a major difference between farms that have built in water holding capacity and protected natural springs, and those that have not protected their water sources,” he explains. “Their production is completely different.”
By expanding our agriculture program—which is already at work in 42 countries on four continents—into China, the Rainforest Alliance is helping to meet growing global consumer demand for sustainable goods. Although there are a number of certification bodies currently operating in China (including Fair Trade and 4C), many farmers still view certification with skepticism. By engaging with producers and local governments slowly and cautiously, the Rainforest Alliance is working to establish trust and improve the general perception of certification in China. Our recent collaboration with China Quality Mark Certification Group (CQM), a rigorous training and certification organization, will help us to achieve this goal while strengthening our network of locally based certification partners.
Our reception at Lincang was perhaps an auspicious sign that the Rainforest Alliance is on its way to becoming a trusted, valued partner in sustainable agriculture in China. The day that we formally awarded the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal to Green Fountain Tea Estate, the government of Lincang hosted an elaborate celebration attended by dignitaries and local media—demonstrating their support for the Huangs and the Green Fountain Tea Estate. It was clear that the entire community felt proud to be the home of the first Rainforest Alliance Certified farm in China.
Ouedraogo Boureima was just four years old when, in 1985, his family left their village in Burkina Faso and walked across the border and into Côte d’Ivoire. They brought only the clothes on their backs, two sheep, four cooking pots, food for travel and a picture of their ancestors. The family traveled south and then west, finally settling in the rural community of Blolequin, where Ouedraogo’s father declared that he would support them as a cocoa farmer.
Ouedraogo’s family planted and then cultivated cocoa trees, and they built a new life for themselves. Ouedraogo came of age and eventually joined his father in the cocoa fields. Then in 2011, the Second Ivoirian Civil War broke out, leaving Blolequin in shambles with dozens killed, and forcing the family to retreat to Burkina Faso. Last year, as a measure of peace began to settle back over the land, Ouedraogo returned to Côte d’Ivoire.
“My heart, my loyalty and my livelihood lies among the shade of my cocoa trees and the blood red earth of Western Côte d’Ivoire,” he explains. Now 31, Ouedraogo is carrying his father’s dream forward. It is a dream shared by more than 4.5 million people in Côte d’Ivoire, who depend on cocoa for their livelihoods. But as the Boureima family knows well, cocoa is an industry fraught with challenges, including price volatility, farmer exploitation, low wages and child labor, in a country plagued by political instability.
Despite the war’s end, political unrest continues to threaten Côte d’Ivoire’s cocoa crop—already under pressure from pests, fungi, unsustainable farming techniques, climate change and drought—while global cocoa demand climbs steadily at a rate of three percent a year. At the same time, increasingly low yields raise concerns about future cocoa shortages and hurt the incomes and aspirations of millions of Ivoirians.
In 2008, the Rainforest Alliance began to introduce socially, environmentally and economically sustainable practices to farmers in Côte d’Ivoire—helping farmers increase their yields and their profits, and improve their lives. Ouedraogo is one of tens of thousands of farmers in Côte d’Ivoire who have benefited from Rainforest Alliance certification.
In an effort to improve his family’s life, in 2011 he joined a cooperative of cocoa farmers working toward Rainforest Alliance certification. Many farmers in his community were initially skeptical of certification. The country’s history of violence and political unrest colored their perception; over the years, they had been approached by a number of NGOs offering aid, but in the end, they all failed to deliver on their promises. Desperate to support his family, Ouedraogo was willing to accept the possibility that certification would not pan out.
Just one year later, Ouedraogo’s understanding of certification has evolved substantially. As with many farmers, it was initially talk of a price premium that attracted him. In actuality, certification does not guarantee a price premium, but higher yields resulting from the techniques promoted by the Rainforest Alliance have improved farmers lives. A 2012 study found that net income on Rainforest Alliance Certified farms in Côte d’Ivoire was 291 percent higher than on noncertified farms.
As Ouedraogo and other farmers have learned, however, higher incomes are just one aspect of the complex journey to sustainability. Now in its second year, Ouedraogo’s Rainforest Alliance Certified cooperative COABOB is composed of 798 farmers who have a much deeper understanding of the challenges and benefits of certification. It was a struggle, for example, for many farmers to accept certification requirements that prohibit the use of toxic agrochemicals and encourage the use of alternative methods to control pests and add nutrients to the soil. With decreasing yields, many farmers felt pressure to increase their use of pesticide and chemical fertilizers on cocoa trees “It takes the Rainforest Alliance training and an outside perspective to understand that these chemicals are not long term solutions,” explains Ouedraogo.
Certification has led to other on-farm improvements, as well. Through his work with the Rainforest Alliance, Ouedraogo learned to prune his trees (cutting away old, dead and diseased branches) and put a mixture of wood shavings and composted cocoa pods around the base of each cocoa tree (helping to keep the soil around the trees’ roots moist). He has also planted a variety of trees on his farm to protect his cocoa from the sun and enrich his soil.
This year, Ouedraogo noticed that his trees had sprouted new, healthy growth. He is hopeful that his harvest will be larger as a result. If other certified farms in the country are any indication, he will get his wish. Certified cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire have produced 72 percent more than their uncertified counterparts.
“I am starting to believe that I can think long term, something that I have never been able to do before,” Ouedraogo says. “I want to practice farming techniques that will allow my son to have a future on this same land.” He feels hopeful knowing that there are consumers demanding certified products. “There are people who believe in what I am doing,” he says, smiling. “This makes the world feel smaller and gives me pride in my work.”
Thanks to commitments from leading brands like Mars, Unilever, Kraft and Hershey, the Rainforest Alliance’s certification work in Côte d’Ivoire has experienced remarkable growth. Over the last six years, 85,000 Ivorian farms covering more than one million acres (410,000 hectares) have become Rainforest Alliance Certified. Companies now recognize that environmental, social and economic sustainability are essential to securing the global cocoa supply—and that Rainforest Alliance certification can help to accomplish these goals.
At the age of 24, Daniel Katz co-founded the Rainforest Alliance. Twenty-five years later, he reflects on the organization’s past, future, struggles and achievements.
This piece has been shortened and reprinted with permission from the Urban Times.
What inspired you to found the Rainforest Alliance in 1986?
I didn’t actually aspire to start an organization; I only wanted to help out. I learned about the deforestation taking place in tropical forests while in college and remember saying, corny as it sounds, that if there was ever a way I could help give a voice to the people, plants and animals of the rainforest, I would do so. Some twenty-six years later, I’m still at it. Sadly, I can’t say: mission accomplished.
What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud that the Rainforest Alliance continues to work with integrity. It’s not immediately obvious on a website or webinar, but inside the organization, the senior leaders of the organization are keenly aware that the issues come first, not the ego. We know that we can’t compromise the organization’s principles and that we need to do our very best to walk our talk. Yes, it’s true that nothing is ever absolutely perfect. But the Rainforest Alliance really does try to pair the long view with the detailed one: we focus on every single farm and every single family as if they were the most important.
We also place far more emphasis and money in the areas where we work than on convincing others with media campaigns. I’m proud that our hearts and minds are still in the right place.
What do you say to people who accuse Rainforest Alliance of “green washing”?
I’ve never had anyone accuse me of “green washing.” I have tracked green washing in the United States for years, and seen when little to no effort is taken by a company to “go green” while expending great resources to tout its grand environmental claims. When we work with companies, we do so with eyes wide open and after all of these years, I think we are pretty good at knowing who is sincerely trying to help and who is not.
I’m also an optimistic believer that the world can be a better place and that we are all going to need to do better to get there, since according to the United States Supreme Court, even corporations are now considered “people.” I have no problems at all engaging with companies that authentically want to make change for the better. The ones that are “phoning it in” almost always show their colors immediately. I guess we may always have detractors who say working with companies is plain wrong. I respect that opinion but disagree with it. We all need to be working on solutions, and as a believer in redemption, I think business can change for the better. Once it does, then we are all further along on the way to supporting a sustainable planet.
What do you say to people who criticize Rainforest Alliance because farmers are not necessarily encouraged to “go organic”?
We don’t tell farmers what to do. We don’t tell anyone what to do. Working with hundreds of folks from where ever we are, we collectively develop standards and criteria around best practices.
[Editor's note: On Rainforest Alliance Certified farms, the most dangerous pesticides are prohibited and all agrochemical use is strictly regulated. Farmers must use mechanical and biological pest controls where possible and strive to reduce both the toxicity and quantity of chemicals used. Many Rainforest Alliance Certified farms are also organic.]
How far does Rainforest Alliance differ from your original vision?
Because I didn’t actually set out to create an organization, I didn’t have a long-term organizational vision at the outset. I have always hoped that one day I could lock the office door and say, “we are done here, the forests and their inhabitants are all healthy, happy and safe.” I knew that was unrealistic but that was the plan. One constant has been certification: it was one of our original tools when we started working on forestry certification in 1988-1989 and, 25 years later, we are still using it to guide our conservation activities.
How would you define your leadership style?
My leadership style? I’m a collaborator, a builder, an entrepreneur. I prefer to work with those who are self-starters. But Tensie Whelan is now the president of the Rainforest Alliance and she is awesome! I ran the Rainforest Alliance for 14 years and am the board chair; in that capacity I do not have day-to-day responsibilities at the organization.
Who, in particular, are the worst culprits in the corporate world?
As Dr. Peter Raven, Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, said at the Rainforest Alliance’s first international conference in 1987, the worst culprits are ignorance, poverty and greed.
What are the biggest obstacles we must overcome?
I think in order to be successful more of the organizations working on environmental issues need to drop the ego and the belief that they do the best work on the planet. No one organization is going to save the world.
We also have to stop measuring groups by budget and membership size and instead measure only by how well they/we are moving the lever toward sustainability. In the United States alone there are over 16,000 nonprofit groups working on environmental issues. I believe the days of the narrow vertical nonprofit are coming to an end and that we need more, much more, authentic collaboration. That means sharing a larger vision (even if we agree to disagree about specifics), a road map and following them until our goal is reached. Of course, the goal may change and the destination may evolve, but we all have to be able to envision the kind of world we want to live in. Most importantly, we have to know HOW we are going to get there. If we don’t get the HOW part of it, we’ll always be hoping against hope to create a world we don’t know how to build.
Tell us your favorite Rainforest Alliance related story.
My favorite Rainforest Alliance story? No one has ever asked me that! Back in 1987 we worked with seven radio stations across the country on a 12-hour radiothon to raise money for conservation. We raised nearly $400,000 through thousands of small donations and during those 12 hours almost every major rock band either came on live, called in or sent of a message of support. It was super cool!
Some believe that no matter what we do, we will lose a large amount of the ecosystems and biodiversity of our planet. What do you say to them?
There is no doubt that we are losing nature every single second of every day. We have lost so much already. But our goal is still to hold the fort for future generations, for those who are growing up so much more environmentally-minded than us. We are still blessed with our amazing blue planet that feeds us every day–and I think there is still time to build a dreamy, sustainable Earth that feeds and shelters everyone. So where does that leave us? Stop wasting our time with folks who either don’t believe or don’t care. Start spending our time building a new collaborative force with a strong vision and bold, practical and realistic steps for achieving that vision.
What is the number one reason we should be optimistic?
The number one reason we should be optimistic is the younger generation. I think they will combine the benefits of new technology with old-school elbow grease and make this planet a whole lot better. I’m certain of it.
Mexico is the fifth most biodiverse country on the planet and home to a wide range of flora and fauna found nowhere else on Earth. It is particularly rich in forest species – including over 1,000 native tree species — but has one of the world’s highest deforestation rates. The Rainforest Alliance is working with community foresters across the Central American country to stop the destruction, helping to secure a sustainable future for their forests, their children and their cultures. Recently, our senior manager of communications, Stuart Singleton-White, visited a community of foresters in Oaxaca, Mexico. He writes…
The Ixtepeji Community Forest Park sits 8,000 feet up in the Serra Madre Del Sur Mountains. To reach the park we drove 45 minutes out of Oaxaca, climbing increasingly windy mountain roads trimmed with crops and pine forest. This was not a ride for the timid or squeamish. Looking out from the bus window, I found myself facing a sheer drop with the valley hundreds of feet below. I was thrilled I wasn’t driving, particularly when trucks full of logs hurtled toward us as they descended the mountain.
The community forest park covers 52,811 acres (21,372 hectares) and is run by the local Zapotec community – previously, it was under the jurisdiction of the Mexican government. Today, almost 80 percent of Mexico’s forests are owned by local communities, meaning that communities have a greater say in how their forests are managed and more control over the economic activities that take place on their land. For the Ixtepeji, who have a community-nominated committee to manage many of those activities, sustainable logging is an important source of income. The community has earned Forest Stewardship Council certification through the Rainforest Alliance for its commitment to responsible forest management.
This means that the area of the forest open for timber extraction, approximately 9,474 acres (3,834 hectares), is operated on a 10-year rotation with selective extraction taking place in each area once a decade. While the community does plant trees, a great deal of the management focuses on the natural regeneration of the forest.
But it’s not only timber that provides an income for the community. Another 4,754 acres (1,924 hectares) is managed to allow the sustainable extraction of other forest products such as ferns, bromeliads and moss — a vital component of any Mexican family’s nativity scene.
In 2003, the community set aside 2,965 acres (1,200 hectares) of the park for the development of an ecotourism enterprise, situated in the heart of 6,229 acres (2,521 hectares) of fully protected forest. Today the development includes nine family-sized cabins and a block of eight rooms, perfect for tourists who are there to hike, bird watch or simply relax in a beautiful environment.
What I saw in Ixtepeji was a great example of sustainability in action. This is forest management that isn’t simply preserving protected forest. It is a dynamic and productive environment, conserving the best in biodiversity while ensuring a community is able to work in harmony with nature. The community is able to provide livelihoods to its members for the present and future while keeping its roots planted deep in the ancestral soil.
Did you know that cattle ranches are responsible for more than three-quarters of all forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon and 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions? That’s why the Rainforest Alliance has begun working with cattle farmers in Latin America to protect wildlife habitat, minimize GHG emissions, and ensure that livestock are comfortable and well-treated.