May 6, 2009 / 11:10 PM / 9 years ago

Rainforest Alliance sees boom in certified farms

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The amount of forest and farmland certified by Rainforest Alliance will continue to soar along with demand for products that meet standards for social and environmental sustainability, a spokesman said Wednesday.

“The amount of Rainforest Alliance certified farmland will increase dramatically over the next few years because it has to. We already have the demand so that sets everything in motion,” said Chris Wille, Rainforest Alliance chief of Sustainable Agriculture.

Costa Rica-based Wille spoke to Reuters on the sidelines of a Rainforest Alliance event in New York.

New York-based Rainforest Alliance, an international nonprofit conservation group, certifies farms that meet its criteria for sustainability: preservation of the local environment, farmers and communities.

In 2008, farm and forest land certified by Rainforest Alliance grew by 23 percent to more than 131 million acres (52 million hectares), from 107 million acres in 2007, Rainforest said last month.

“The drive is coming from all along the value chain and especially companies. We’ve never seen more interest from companies, from consumers and from producers,” Wille said, adding this was a welcome move amid the current global financial crisis.

Although Rainforest Alliance does not set a premium, the seal gives producers negotiating leverage as the buyers typically pay a premium for goods it has certified.

Companies want to ensure the long-term supply of the high-quality products, Wille said.

“We have more demand than supply. There’s competition for the certified goods,” he said.

“So now farmers are lining up outside the doors of our partner NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and eager to get involved,” Wille said.

For years, Rainforest Alliance has certified farms that produce coffee, bananas, tea and cocoa. Recent additions include grapes, acai, chestnuts, apples and pears.

“We are very much committed to seeing this world as a better place and to help both the farmers and the growers, but also the environment. And be socially responsible in every which way,” said Nabi Saleh, executive chairman of Gloria Jean’s Coffees International.

The Sydney, Australia-based company has nearly reached its 2010 target selling 85 percent Rainforest Alliance certified coffee, Saleh said.

“Sourcing certified coffees has not been as easy as we thought it was going to be. The demand is greater than supply for certified coffee,” he said.

The privately held company, which now has more than 1,000 coffee shops in 36 countries, recently transformed its espresso blend into fully certified coffee. This move bumped the amount of Gloria Jean’s Rainforest Alliance coffee to 85 percent certified.

Of the certified coffee, 80 percent comes from certified farms. The Rainforest logo can be put on an agricultural product that contains a minimum of 30 percent certified coffee.

Reporting by Marcy Nicholson; Editing by David Gregorio

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