A Conversation with Michelle Deugd

Good morning Michelle, could you please tell us a little about yourself and how you ended up in coffee with the Rainforest Alliance?

I joined the Rainforest Alliance in 2008 and, throughout the years, I have managed a range of coffee projects in Latin America, Asia and Africa, focusing on the development of the Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee supply at the origin.  I am now the organisation’s sector lead for coffee.

Rainforest Alliance has merged with UTZ. Why?

Having a single certification programme will simplify certification for farmers and help companies to build more responsible supply chains and drive innovation more efficiently. Creating a single auditing process and streaming the certification process will not only help the more than 400,000 coffee farmers currently certified under both standards, but it will also help new farmers to certify.

It will also help to expand our advocacy efforts.

I understand you have a new strategy called ‘Reimagining Certification’.

‘Reimagining Certification’ is our long-term vision for the future of certification. It is part of our broader strategy at the Rainforest Alliance to drive change.

Certification has had a significant impact, but it must continue to evolve to drive further improvement for people and nature and provide more value for farmers and companies.

We are moving away from the idea that certification is a series of pass/fail requirements. Instead, we are adopting a continuous improvement approach that drives change from a set of core criteria.

What does this mean in practice? It means first ensuring that all workers receive a minimum wage – but continuing to drive improvements towards a living wage. It means working to stop deforestation–and then going beyond that, towards reforestation or regenerative agriculture.

Could you please explain the economic elements in the new criteria?

Our 2020 Sustainable Agriculture Standard outlines two financial requirements for the buyers of Rainforest Alliance Certified commodities: The Sustainability Differential (SD) and Sustainability Investments (SI).

The Sustainability Differential is a mandatory additional cash payment made to certified producers over and above the market price of the commodity. We don’t set the Sustainability Differential in the coffee sector; the grower and the first buyer will negotiate it between them.

The Sustainability Investments are mandatory cash or in-kind investments from buyers of Rainforest Alliance certified products to certified producers for the specific purpose of helping them meet the farm requirements of our Sustainable Agriculture Standard. The investments must go towards the needs identified by producers in their investment plans, and buyers must report the investments they make.

Besides these new criteria related to shared responsibility, our 2020 Sustainable Agriculture Standard also enhances practices which promote improved efficiency and farm-based profitability as the basis for an improved farm income.

How has the Rainforest Alliance changed its approach to child and forced labour?

Child labour, forced labour, discrimination, and workplace violence and harassment have never been – and will never be – tolerated by the Rainforest Alliance. However, what we have learned through many years of experience is that merely prohibiting these human rights violations in our standard is insufficient. Automatic decertification as the response to any incident of child labour is more likely to drive the problem underground, making it harder to detect and address. That’s why our new certification programme promotes an ‘Assess-and-Address’ approach to tackling these human rights issues.

The ‘Assess-and-Address’ approach puts the interest of children and workers at its centre. Without solving the root causes of child labour, forced labour, discrimination, and workplace violence or harassment, the problems will not go away. That’s why the Rainforest Alliance promotes collaboration between certified farms, governments, civil society and supply chain partners to solve these issues together.

How can you increase the demand for certified coffee?

Our market team works with brands, roasters and retailers to develop demand, and they have been successful in their work in the sense that both of our certification programmes have continued to grow since the merger. It has even been the case in 2020 in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Besides that, you need to look beyond the data of one single certification system to get to the full understanding of supply-demand data. Many farms are double- or sometimes triple-certified. If they sell their coffee through one certification system, it is not available to sell through another certification system.

Last question: what is your favourite coffee, and how do you prepare it?

My favourite coffee comes from a sustainably managed small farm in the Tarrazú mountains of Costa Rica, at 1,700 meters above sea level. A young family manage the whole process from cherry to roasted bean, selling the coffee at the local market of the village where I live. I prepare it with a Chemex coffee maker to obtain the full flavour!

Thank you, Michelle, for your time and input!

You are welcome. Thank you for your interest in the Rainforest Alliance!

© Commodity Conversations ® 2020

This is an extract from my new book ‘Crop to Cup – Conversations over Coffee’ to be published shortly.

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