Coffee Certifications and Their Meanings
Over the last 20 years, there has been an increased appreciation for consumer products that come with certifications. It builds trust in consumers, creates a validation for producers and seems to be a great asset towards helping companies accomplishes their missions. Well-known certifications like “Fair Trade” and “Organic” are quite popular, but in the coffee environment there are other important certifications as well, including Bird Friendly, Rainforest Alliance, and UTZ. Here at Those Coffee People we take the time to carefully consider all certifications of our coffee origins and appreciate the different benefits each make to both the farmers and the environment.
Perhaps the most well known worldwide is Organic.
In order to receive an organic certification, the farm must not have used prohibited substances on the land for a minimum time of three years. Prohibited substances included most synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Another requirement specifically for coffee includes a buffer between the coffee and any other crop not grown organically.
There are different fees that must be paid by producers in order to receive the organic certification. Due to this cost, it sometimes disallows poorer farmers to be recognized as organic even if they abide by the standards. However, producers who are able to pay the fees will often benefit from being able to sell their product at a higher rate.
The second most recognized certification is Fair Trade.
Essentially, a fair trade certification is an assurance that the producers are involved in profit sharing and can be paid fair wages for their work. This allows communities to grow and innovate in order to create sustainability and a better chance at the future. Certification is only available to democratically-organized cooperatives or associations of small producers, not individually-owned farms or estates, or those that rely heavily on hired labor. Cooperatives who are fair trade certified receive a minimum price per pound, with an additional premium if the coffee is also certified organic. In addition, producers receive the Fair Trade Premium above the purchase price that farmers democratically invest according to their priorities. These increased costs are of coursed passed on to the consumer, which give rationale if you’re paying more for a fair trade latte vs. a standard latte.
Some of the lesser-known certifications include Bird Friendly, Rainforest Alliance, and UTZ.
A Bird Friendly certification allows consumers to know that the producer is protecting the environment in a way that does not disrupt, beyond a certain extent, the local habitat of native species. Requirements include a having a canopy at least 12 meters high with the dominant tree species being native, a minimum of 40% shade cover even after pruning, at least two strata or layers of vegetation, made up of at least 10 woody species dispersed throughout the production area. In addition to these requirements, the coffee must also be certified organic. There is no certification fee but the producer must pay for periodical audits. These fees support bird conservation research. Producers with this certification are able to charge 5-10 cents higher per pound.
Rainforest Alliance and UTZ merged together in the beginning of 2018.
The Rainforest Alliance promotes standards for sustainability. It covers a number of ecological issues as well as community relations and fair treatment of workers. Certification is awarded based on a score for meeting a minimum number of an array of criteria. Producers with this certification can use the certification to negotiate a better price for their coffee, generally an additional 5 to 10 cents per pound.
UTZ emphasizes on transparency and traceability in the supply chain and efficient farm management. The latter includes good agricultural practices such as soil erosion prevention, minimizing water use and pollution, responsible use of chemicals, and habitat protection.
Certification was originally perceived as a strategy for strengthening the position of small coffee producers in the value chain. Consumers must keep in mind that these certifications cost the producers money — both in fees paid to the different certification bodies and in costs associated to changes in their methods to achieve the necessary standards. This often causes issues as some consumers are only willing to pay small amounts for these environmental or social impacts, which threatens the good work that the certifications are aiming to accomplish. In order to keep coffee trade sustainable, the final consumer will need to be willing to shoulder the costs.