There is great demand from consumers for products that are seen as being fair to the growers and to the wider environment. However, the problem with linking existing certification schemes such as Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance to the wider environment is that these schemes relate only to performance on the farms. Indeed this was brought home to the Opwall Trust when noticed that the village of La Fortuna in Cusuco was the one most heavily involved in illegal logging and hunting in the Cusuco Park, yet the coffee growers in the community had Rainforest Alliance certification for their coffee. As long as the coffee growers themselves were not involved in the logging and hunting the Rainforest Alliance certification was not threatened.
There is an increasing move as part of forest management schemes to involve communities in agreeing contracts where they police their own villagers to ensure there is no involvement in illegal logging or hunting in adjacent forests and the forest/village boundary remains in the same position as when the contract was signed. In exchange these communities get investment in businesses or access to micro-finance loans as long as the wildlife protection elements are maintained. These forest management schemes are being managed through government to government funding under the REDD+ scheme and $4.5 billion has been committed to this scheme by the US, EU, Japan and other (the donating countries gain the carbon saved by preventing the deforestation in the developing countries) already. However, there are two major additional schemes (Climate Community and Biodiversity Assessment Standards and Natural Forest Standard) that are also being used to package forets for long term protection. Several thousand forests around the world are being packaged to these standards and the management schemes funded through the sale of carbon credits.
These schemes offer a great opportunity to extend the existing certification schemes to include the wider environment. So if a coffee producer was interested in claiming and being able to verify that the sourcing of their coffee was helping with wildlife conservation the way to do it would be to source only from communities involved in one of these REDD+ or derivative schemes (this is several thousand forests now and growing rapidly each year). They could maintain the sourcing of all products from Rainforest Alliance certified producers within these communities. The main advantage of this approach is that there are no extra costs for certification – it is just combining two existing schemes. The main issue that prevents widening product certification to include wildlife conservation benefits in surrounding forests is how this is monitored. Using this approach coffee producers (or those of other products) can use the existing REDD+, NFS or CCBA monitoring schemes to verify that the forests and their biodiversity really is being maintained in forests adjacent to where they are sourcing their product.
The Opwall Trust is organising a meeting in Spring 2014 to bring together all the key players (Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, Kew, Edinburgh University who run the NFS scheme, CCBA and a number of the other major players in the coffee industry) together to discuss the practicalities of such a scheme and how it could be implemented.