The Rainforest Alliance
“The Rainforest Alliance certification cocoa program ensures that our cocoa is grown according to rigorous social and environmental standards that safeguard both the environment and the farming communities.”
In my opinion, our Rainforest Alliance certification designation may be the most important to Firebird Chocolate today, and going forward. My simple translation, is that this certification ensures that with the unprecedented global demand for chocolate, we are not paying or supporting farmers and communities that butcher our forests, in the name of meeting this demand. The problem is we in the US, don’t see these trees, these rain forests, and these communities and with our typical “out of sight out of mind” mentality, it is hard to know exactly what is happening to these forests within 20 degrees of the equator. The Rainforest Alliance ensures that we are acquiring cocoa beans from farmers and farms who are held to a higher standard. This may be a little deep, but if you are interested, read on to learn more…
Cocoa and Farming Practices
Farmed on over 18 million acres of tropical land, cocoa (Theobroma Cacao) provides a means of livelihood to an estimated 40 million people, including five million farmers, 90 percent of whom are smallholders, laborers and employees in processing factories. Like coffee, cocoa can be cultivated under the shade of native canopy trees and maintain a landscape similar to natural forest. This helps conserve the habitat of threatened plant and animal species, protect natural pollinators and predators of cocoa pests and create biological corridors that maintain large-scale ecological and evolutionary processes.
Shade trees in an agroforestry system often include other species of economic value, which can reduce risks connected with growing a single crop. However, many farmers have cut forest to open up new fields and grow cocoa more intensively without shade. This approach has short-term benefits on yields but is suitable only for hybrid plants that are increasingly replacing native cocoa. Unfortunately, these hybrid plants require the application of agrochemicals and grow in open fields, which leads to increased erosion and run-off — reducing soil fertility and contributing to water contamination and health problems.
The Rainforest Alliance, in partnership with cocoa and chocolate companies, public institutions, local organizations and farmer associations, encourages cocoa-farming practices that are sustainable over the long term and maintain a healthy environment and decent working conditions.
Rainforest Alliance and Organic Certification
Organic agriculture is an important, worldwide movement to make farms productive without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) standards are based on an internationally recognized integrated pest management model, which allows for some limited, strictly controlled use of agrochemicals. SAN standards emphasize two important goals: wildlife conservation and worker welfare. Farmers certified by the Rainforest Alliance do not use agrochemicals prohibited by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the European Union. Managers of certified farms are required to use biological or mechanical alternatives to pesticides whenever possible. When farmers determine that agrochemicals are necessary to protect the crop, they must choose the safest products available and use every available safeguard to protect human health and the environment.
Certification approaches farming in a holistic manner, and we have demonstrated that these standards afford a realistic and effective way for farms of all sizes to move toward independence from agrochemicals.
Rainforest Alliance Certified farms have met rigorous social and environmental standards set by the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN). For complete information about the standards, please visit the SAN website.
The SAN, the oldest and largest coalition of NGOs striving to improve commodity production in the tropics, develops criteria for responsible farm management. The standards developed by the SAN Secretariat comply with the Code of Good Practice for Setting Social and Environmental Standards of the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labeling (ISEAL) Alliance. The ISEAL Alliance is an association of leading voluntary international standard-setting and conformity assessment organizations that focus on social and environmental issues. ISEAL Alliance members collaborate to build international recognition and legitimacy for their programs. This collaboration represents a significant global movement to promote the interests of workers, communities and the environment in world trade.
Through the collaboration of ISEAL members, certification processes are continually improved. For Rainforest Alliance Certified farms, the certification body Sustainable Farm Certification, International certifies farms that comply with SAN standards. Inspection bodies, typically local NGOs, are authorized by Sustainable Farm Certification, International to provide audit services for farmers and agricultural companies in their respective countries. Inspection bodies also offer their knowledge and experience to help continually refine and develop Sustainable Agriculture standards.
Firebird Chocolate & the Rainforest Alliance
“Our chocolate is free of any chemicals and pesticides prohibited by the Rainforest Alliance Certified guidelines.”*
I know the above sounds a little intense, even a bit geeky, but it is important. It is important for us as humans, and important for our earth…the planet we need to take care of. This is why it is important, no, IMPERATIVE, we keep acquiring cocoa beans from farms, across the the world, that honor these guidelines, ensure that great chocolate isn’t only about our tastebuds.
* Please note that our 70% Bittersweet Baking Pieces are not RF certified, but are USDA Organic.