From the Soil Up: Responsible Agriculture in Action | Net Impact

From the Soil Up: Responsible Agriculture in Action

Meriwether Hardie Rainforest Alliance Guatemala
Meriwether Hardie of the Rainforest Alliance takes in the view on a visit to a Guatemalan coffee farm to see the impact of global agricultural supply chain sustainability practices.


Mario Dionisio Valle stands in front of me, tall and proud, as we look over his three-acre coffee farm. "My coffee plants are my heart," he explains, "they center my life, and all my activities flow through and around them. My life calendar is measured by the cycle of their growing and harvest."

The lush, green coffee bushes thrive on the steep mountainside around us. Below, the land drops off into a deep valley, and then rises again into a horizon of jagged mountains. A waterfall cascades off the valley’s edge. The air is hot and dry, and clings to my lungs as we climb upwards.

Mario is one of 68 smallholder coffee farmers who together make up the Los Chujes Sustainable, Social and Economic Development Association (ADESC). ADESC is located in the remote northern part of Huehuetenango, Guatemala, which is famous for producing some of the world’s best coffee.

A visible impact

As Mario and I walk among his coffee bushes, Mario talks about the impacts of Rainforest Alliance certification on his land. Mario notes the spider webs that wrap around the branches of some of the coffee bushes. He explains that through the Rainforest Alliance certification trainings that he attended as part of the preparation for the certification process, he learned practices to reduce the use of agrochemicals on his land. He now understands that rather than being pests, these spiders and other creatures are clear evidence of the health and diversity of his soil and land. He then points to a clear stream running through his land, which used to be polluted with the wastewater from his coffee mill.

In addition to environmental benefits, certification has brought economic benefits to Mario and the other farmers in ADESC. Nespresso pays ADESC a premium of US $8 per sack* of coffee, of which they invest 44% in ensuring that their farms continue to meet the standard for certification and the remaining 56% is divided among members. Last year alone, ADESC sold 8,000 sacks of Rainforest Alliance Certified™ coffee to Nespresso.

Why "business as usual" is no longer an option

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), an estimated 842 million people are chronically hungry—that’s one out of every eight people on the planet. We have to double food production by the year 2050, when the human population will reach nine billion. Yet the ways in which we are producing food, is already taking a major toll on the environment, and we cannot afford to scale up food production with our current methods. Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of freshwater use and most of the deforestation and destruction of wetlands and other ecosystems. Clearing for cattle pasture, for example, drives more than 90 percent of the rainforest burning in the Amazon. Better, more efficient practices are needed all along food supply chains. Business as usual is no longer an option.

From the company perspective, to succeed today, companies must safeguard their reputation, maintain a safe, healthy and productive workforce and ensure that the materials they need have been sustainably sourced. However, companies often do not have the expertise nor the capacity to manage their supply chains sustainably. And very rarely, do those companies have staff on the ground, working with farmers, and understanding the challenges that those farmers are facing on a daily basis. That’s where the Rainforest Alliance comes in. 

We work with forward-thinking farmers to conserve natural resources and ensure the long-term economic health of communities. In order for a farm to achieve Rainforest Alliance certification, it must meet rigorous standards designed to protect ecosystems, safeguard the well-being of local communities and improve productivity. On Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms and forestlands, wildlife and ecosystems are protected, workers receive decent wages, good housing and healthcare, and their children have access to education.

Working together for global change

We work with 11,000 companies in 100 countries to find sustainable materials and minimize disruptions to their supply chains, allowing them to do well while also doing good. We work with over 1 million farmers like Mario to help them achieve high yields on existing cropland without clearing more forest or otherwise damaging the environment, even amid growing pressure from climate change and other environmental problems. This is because, at the heart of the Rainforest Alliance’s approach, is the understanding that the health of the land is inextricably connected to the wellbeing of those who depend on it for their livelihoods.

To meet growing food demand sustainably, we need to scale up responsible agriculture practices. And to do so, we need to work together, throughout the supply chain, to achieve these changes at both scale and on a quick timeframe.

"Coffee production is hard as a small farmer," explains Mario, "but now that I am working with other farmers and the Rainforest Alliance, it no longer feels as lonely. I know am part of a greater family, and we are working on these challenges together."

*The numbers listed indicate 2013 prices.

About Meriwether

Meriwether Hardie has diverse experience in project leadership, sustainability education, and remote wilderness exploration. She’s the Senior Executive Associate at the Rainforest Alliance, where she leads special projects. Meriwether is developing a new MBA initiative to work with future business leaders to share Rainforest Alliance’s successful model, impact, and way of “doing business NOT as usual” throughout supply chains, from producers to consumers. She is speaking at Overcoming Obstacles in Environmentalism and Agricultural Supply Chain Sustainability From the Soil Up at this year's conference. Join her to discuss innovative supply chain interventions that address these types of challenges and ensure that sustainability practices in the supply chain create real impact on the ground.

The conference is over, but you can watch video highlights, including many of our keynote speeches