Certification of Sustainability

Unlike most of my other posts, practically all the hyperlinks in this post link to an aptly corresponding webpage instead of a picture I took. Also, please note that my previous post on the reserve at La Cumplida has been corrected. You can find the corrections in bold at the top of the post.


La Cumplida’s coffee farm is accredited by UTZ CERTIFIED and Rainforest Alliance. These two organizations are worldwide leaders in assessing and monitoring sustainable practices. UTZ is solely concerned with agriculture—coffee, cacao, and tea farms, mostly. The group states that through their standards, farmers see increases in productivity, efficiency, and quality:


“In 2007, before being certified, my farm of 2.1 hectares produced 7,000 pounds of parchment. Now, in 2009, I have a productivity of 11,000 pounds. That represents an income increase.” (Cooperativa San José El Obrero, Guatemala)


“Before certification I fertilized 3 times a year with 80 grammes per plant, now I fertilize two times a year and apply 100 grammes per plant; with this measure I saved labor and fertilizers, while farm productivity has not been affected. Savings have been US $39 / ha”. (Cooperativa Anserma, Colombia)


The percentage of Class 3 & 4, which fetch better prices, has increased above 80% since certification, unlike 2006/2007 when they only produced 26.1% of class 4. (Rianjagi Coffee Farmers Cooperative Society (RFCS), Kenya)

But UTZ is not only interested in increasing yields. On the socially responsible side of certification, UTZ ensures that employees get access to education, healthcare, and better work conditions. They secure these improvements by giving guidelines to farms seeking certification and establishing an UTZ Code of Conduct that requires continuous improvement every year with increasingly detailed criteria for sustainable management, environmental protection, and occupational safety.

Just like UTZ CERTIFIED, Rainforest Alliance focuses on what they call the “three pillars of sustainability: environmental protection, social equity and economic viability.” The Alliance grants certification for agricultural businesses after a successful audit by a subsidiary and independent group Sustainable Farm Certification, Intl., which is the authorized Certification Body of the Sustainable Agriculture Network. They also work with tourism and forestry enterprises and certify qualifying operations based on industry-specific criteria, such as those set forth by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) for forestry.

You may be wondering what all these interlinked associations (which by no coincidence happen to all be full members of ISEAL) and certification mechanisms accomplish for a coffee farm like La Cumplida. What tangible benefits come from attaining the right to put the Rainforest Alliance frog or UTZ CERTIFIED “Good Inside” seal on a bag of coffee?

First come the direct advantages at the farm itself, like the increases in efficiency, productivity, and quality mentioned above. Natural ecosystems are identified, protected, and restored when possible; farm employees receive teaching in first aid and physicals (as well as mental exams in the cases of mechanics and drivers) from the Ministry of Health; working environments undergo assessments for safety from occupational hazards. Long-term gains come from actions as simple as switching to efficient light bulbs and more complex requirements such as recording all energy and water expenditure on property, or making an inventory of local wild animals and their habitats for conservation.

These effects of certification programs can probably be seen at any farms associated with Rainforest Alliance and/or UTZ CERTIFIED. However, I got the specific initiatives listed in the previous paragraph (which are all currently underway or to be applied this year) from sitting in on a Mixed Commission get-together at La Cumplida. Migdalia Espinoza, the farm’s sustainable program manager, met with eleven men responsible for various portions of the finca, like the supply room, forestry team, coffee team, Cumplida 1 and 2 (two different areas with buildings that include the guest-house, offices, supply rooms, kitchen and cantina, etc.).

The first thing that I noticed about these men was that all of them wore the rubber boots—with varying mud residue—necessary for “real work” at a farm. They also each (except one) had a baseball cap on, although as far as I recall none of them bore the name of a specific team, but instead had “La Cumplida” or the Polo Ralph Lauren insignia (the latter is seen all around the country for some reason) stitched on them. One of the men had also patched the emblem for Spanish soccer team Real Madrid C.F. onto his La Cumplida work shirt, a symbol of the loyalty that Nicaraguan sports fans hold not only to their national sport of baseball but also to the internationally popular European soccer league that includes Madrid’s widely admired nemesis FC Barcelona. It is common to see cars and motorcycles sporting stickers advocating specific players or just the teams’ emblems, as well as graffiti doing the same.

But none of this has anything to do with the Mixed Commission meeting. Back on topic:

The main goal of the Commission’s gathering was for Migdalia to go over last year’s audits by UTZ and Rainforest Alliance and determine if the requirements for continued certification next year were on their way to being attained. Some of the criteria had already been met, such as forbidding employees to eat or wash clothing in areas where agrochemicals are used. Others, like quantifying the effects of hydroelectric dams, could not be completed because the project itself is still underway and as of yet offers no data. Sorting garbage into compostable, recyclable, and inorganic waste is another important requirement that has yet to be fully realized.

One current enterprise is teaching adult workers to read and write: the number of workers who can do so is lower than La Cumplida management would like (as far as I could tell, neither UTZ CERTIFIED nor Rainforest Alliance has a strict requirement for a literacy rate in their education stipulations). A project called Talisman will provide the employees with better housing. This initiative has already built a good portion of the proposed 100 cement houses to replace the employees’ current wooden abodes that are in need of repair. Talisman is in a more strategically proper location than the wood houses, and will give workers their own independent plots of land instead of living on that of the finca as most currently do. For these houses to be legally handed over to the farm-hands, they must be able to read contracts and not just blindly sign dotted lines, as many of them would have to do if they didn’t take advantage of the literacy-improvement program.

Houses at Talisman, La Cumplida

As I have mentioned before, Simplemente Madera’s wood sources are also certified as sustainable, in this case by the Forest Stewardship Council, yet another member of ISEAL. In future posts I will outline the current FSC certification requirements as well as those that affect Morgan’s Rock Hacienda & Ecolodge.

One thought on “Certification of Sustainability

  1. Pingback: How Smart Can Wood Be? « Raxa Collective

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