In June 2020, the Rainforest Alliance published its 2020 Certification Programme that includes the release of their new Sustainable Agriculture Standard. Other components include a new assurance system and a set of data systems and tools to better follow and oversee sustainability performance. This new programme will replace the existing Rainforest Alliance and UTZ certification programmes from July next year.
The Rainforest Alliance 2020 Certification Programme is centred around a vision of ‘Reimagining Certification’ to address challenges facing sustainable agriculture and related supply chains. The process commenced following the merger of the Rainforest Alliance and UTZ in 2018.
Before we delve into the changes, here is a checklist to help you identify if your farm or supply chain operation is under the scope of the 2020 Rainforest Alliance Certification Programme and some of the key pre-requisites for certification.
Checklist for 2020 programme
Please note that audits under the current 2017 Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standard will continue through 30 June 2021. Subsequently, a transition audit will be required during the period from 1 July 2021 until 1 July 2022. From 1 July 2022, certificate holders must be audited to the new farm and supply chain requirements. The new standards are effective for clients beginning on 1 July 2021. More information about transition timelines can be found here.
This checklist provides guidance for farmers and supply chain operations to prepare for changes in the Rainforest Alliance certification programme.
This is not an exhaustive list. It serves as a starting point and for reference purpose only.
1. Check that your crops are among those listed below.
☐ Tree crops such as coffee, cocoa, and tea
☐ Fruits such as bananas, coconuts, and pineapples
☐ Cut flowers
☐ Vegetables (subject to confirmation)
☐ Palm Oil (subject to confirmation)
Note: Herbs and spices will be covered under a new joint certification programme developed by the Rainforest Alliance with the Union for Ethical Biotrade (UEBT). Rainforest Alliance has previously announced the phase out of certification of rubber and cattle.
2. The 2020 programme prohibits deforestation and destruction of natural ecosystems such as wetlands and peatlands and sets 2014 as the baseline year for the conversion of natural ecosystem. This means your farm must be protected from conversion since 2014 in order to be eligible for certification under the new programme.
3. For clients currently certified under the 2017 standard, you will need to register in the new Rainforest Alliance Certification Platform, which opens January 2021; and obtain a transition certificate from Rainforest Alliance before the end of 2021.
4. Certified farms and supply chain actors will need to have a system to evaluate and address child labour, forced labour, discrimination and workplace violence and harassment. The system must include the following:
1) risk mitigation measures, 2) monitoring activities 3) plan for remediation of child labour, forced labour, discrimination and workplace violence and harassment.
5. Farms must evaluate risks to the naturalness of High Conservation Values (HCVs) on or near their land through a risk assessment questionnaire and address the risks through mitigation measures.
6. Permanent and temporary workers who are employed for more than three (3) consecutive months must have a written employment contract signed by both employer and worker.
7. Worker registrations must include the following:
Farms with more than 5 hired workers and Group Management
☐ Records of permanent and temporary workers including full name, gender, year of birth, start and end date(s) of employment, wages
Small farms with less than 5 hired workers
☐ Records of workers’ full name, gender, year of birth, wages
8. Farm maps
Large farms and Group Management
☐ Must have the following information:
1) Farms/ farm units / production zones, 2) Processing facilities, 3) Human habitation areas, 4) Schools, 5) Medical centres/first aid sites, 6) Natural ecosystems, including water bodies and forests, and other existing natural vegetation, 7) Riparian buffer zones, 8) Agroforestry shade cover, 9) Protected areas, as well as 10) identified risk areas
☐ Must have the following information:
1) Production area of certified crop, 2) Forests, 3) Water bodies, and 4) Buildings
9. A Sustainability Differential (SD) must be ensured. The SD is a mandatory payment of an additional cash amount to certified producers by buyers of Rainforest Alliance Certified™ products. Rainforest Alliance reserves the right to introduce minimum SD per sector and the paid amounts must be at least the prescribed minimum according to requirement 3.2.7. The SD amount is over and on top of the market price, quality premiums, and other differentials. However, in case farms purchase from other farms and there is change of ownership, the farms purchasing certified product are the first buyer.
For Group Management only
☐ Must pay full amount of SD in cash or monetary payment to group members
For buyers of certified products
☐ Must ensure sellers receive SD in the form of a cash payment on top of the market price, quality premiums or other differentials
A strong focus on data systems and tools
Certificate holders at Farm and Supply Chain level will need to register for membership in a new IT platform. Accordingly, this platform is expected to help them manage the audit processes as well as record sales transactions of certified products.
Rainforest Alliance also announced that new IT-based tools are underway and will be accessible to farmers, certificate holders and supply chain actors. The tools will be utilised to better track and manage sustainability performance against the requirements of the Sustainable Agriculture Standard.
Geospatial analysis will be used to support and monitor farm’s performance. For example, before the audits, the GPS location of the certified farm will be checked to verify whether there is any evidence of forest conversion since 2014 because conversion and destruction of natural ecosystems since 2014 will not be able to be certified.
More adaptation to certain context
To provide users with only the requirements that are relevant to their situation, the new Certification Programme introduces a system that uses a contextualised approach. This will provide flexibility yet allow the certification programme to focus on addressing the issues that matter the most in a certain situation.
Based on the information received from the producers about their set-up, the system will issue requirements only applicable for the situation of such producers. This also means not every certificate holder will be audited against the same set of requirements in the standard.
“Smart Meters” is a new set of targets introduced in this new Certification Programme. Rather than ‘one size for all, this set fits to each certificate holder’s context. Farmers will be asked to measure their performance against their own goals instead of a pass/fail approach.
Allocation of certification bodies
As announced earlier before the launch of this new Certification Programme, Rainforest Alliance has planned to introduce a new Certification Body allocation system. This means that the Rainforest Alliance may assign a specific Certification Body to complete your audit. Right now, this is being piloted for cocoa certification in West Africa, but could be extended to other crops and/or countries if there is identified risk.
The new programme introduced risk as a key component. Risk-based assurance relies on the collection and verification of credible and useful data as well as compliance evidence.
A Farm Risk Assessment Tool is introduced to support certificate holders in defining what is needed to reach the outcomes of the Standard. It covers topics related to management, farming, and social and environmental requirements. Rainforest Alliance will carry out risk assessments for supply chain companies as well and depending on the risk category they end up, audits for supply chain companies can differ. For example, if there is a risk on labour issues, the audit checklist will contain questions on labour issues.
The programme also introduces an “assess and address” approach to tackling the challenging issues of child labour, forced labour, discrimination, and workplace violence and harassment. Instead of the pass/fail approach in the 2017 system, the new programme provides a continuous improvement mechanism, incentivizing certificate holders to prevent, identify and resolve issues rather than hide them.
Not all crops are included
One notable change is that the standard has a smaller scope of crops covered. The new version now focuses on tree crops (such as coffee, cocoa, and tea), fruits (such as bananas, coconuts, and pineapples), nuts (such as hazelnuts), and cut flowers.
For herbs and spices, Rainforest Alliance has been in collaboration with the Union for Ethical Biotrade to develop a new joint certification programme covering herbal and fruit infusions, rooibos infusion, as well as herbs and spices. Cattle and rubber have been omitted from the scope of the new Rainforest Alliance standard, as previously announced. Vegetables and palm oil are currently covered by the 2020 Programme but these are subject to confirmation.
The new Rainforest Alliance programme is quite different from the current standards; and our experts at NEPCon are continuing to study and understand the impacts. More information, tools and training events for producers and supply chain actors will be coming soon. In the meantime, we encourage Rainforest Alliance and UTZ certificate holders to explore the available resources at the links below. We look forward to supporting you on your transition to the new programme.
Read the overview of the standard’s key features and thematic innovations here. You can download the new 2020 Sustainable Agriculture Standard and related documents here.