What does sustainable agriculture mean exactly? The general idea behind sustainable agriculture is that of using practices that produce products over the long term without degrading the environment or social fabric of the area. In application, it can mean slightly different things to different people. That is why certification programs, such as Rainforest Alliance Certification, have been developed using sustainability standards, such as those developed by the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN)- to make it easy for people to chose sustainable agriculture that is held to standards. Looking for the Rainforest Alliance Certification Seal with the green frog makes it easy to spot sustainable agriculture on your grocery store aisles.
Sustainable Agriculture in Practice in Costa Rica
I had the opportunity to be go to Costa Rica on a Rainforest Alliance press trip to speak with farmers and farm managers to see how adopting sustainable agriculture practices has affected their farms and why they chose to become certified. It was a wonderful experience and I am happy to be able to share it with you.
Verde Tica Passionfruit Farm Smallholders
This particular farm visit was extremely interesting because it was to see a group of smallholder farmers- meaning that each farmer (and his family) owns about 10 acres. Many of these small farms were given to the families by the Costa Rican government as a way to help those in need. Most of the farms produce a variety of produce- passionfruit, rice, corn, plantains, and cocoa. These farmers are currently working on achieving Rainforest Alliance Certification with the assistance of Chiquita.
My press group arrived at a training meeting being run by a Chiquita representative. He was teaching the farmers about safe pesticide handling which is one small piece of the social aspect of Rainforest Alliance Certification. What is really great about this is that these farmers are already using pesticides on their crops and now they can apply the safety practices they learn to all of their crops, not just the passionfruit that Chiquita will be buying from them.
The representative from Chiquita said that they are interested in buying their fruit from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms because the farms must adhere to standards. In this way, Chiquita can know that the crops they buying are not over exposed to agrochemicals and that the farmers are complying complying with fair social practices.
Chiquita offers these small shareholders two year contracts with a fixed price, training, plantlets, and pick up of product. It is in Chiquita’s interest to help these farmers learn how to grow passionfruit in a way that is sustainable (environmentally, economically, and socially) so that they can continue to have a passionfruit supply. The relationship between Chiquita and the small shareholders is win-win and the Rainforest Alliance Certification helps make sure that the standards are those that will promote sustainability.
After the workshop, we were able to go back to one of the new passionfruit farmers’ acreage. There were two generations of farmers tending the family land. They were so proud to show us their farm. The younger generation was all smiles and even snapped some photos of my group which made me laugh- us taking pictures of each other seemed funny to me somehow.
The passionfruit occupied about .5 of their acres and they were growing plantains, cocoa, green coconuts, beans, pineapple, and some papayas as well. The passionfruit only take 6 months to go from plantlets to producing crops and the passionfruits fall to the ground when they are ready. Passionfruit have a really beautiful flower and the fruit is very exotic to taste.
The farmers showed us around and they generously used a machete to hack open several green coconuts so we could drink out of them. They were very excited to share with us and it was delicious! They also gave us some passionfruits to try. It was a wonderful experience to see their farm and share their excitement.
If you love the rainforest and are excited about the work the Rainforest Alliance is doing to spread sustainable practices, you may want to check out their Kids’s Corner which has free, fun resources to share with your children the love of nature and knowledge to go with it. You may also want my next post on Rainforest Alliance Certified Flowers- check back next week!