The rich history of the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) can be divided into the following sections. You can click on each section below to learn more.
The Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) grew out of concerns raised by researchers and environmentalists in the 1970s and 1980s, when the connection between the predominant development model and destruction of the world’s tropical forests was illustrated by an array of scientific papers, books and reports in the popular media. The decision of SAN members to work together was based on the realization that farm certification could be a cost-effective tool for protecting the environment and improving life for rural people.
The collaboration has been unique within the conservation and development worlds in that it evolved in the south to eventually be marketed in the north. Its members have collaborated on the design, improvement and implementation of a standard that can be applied to an unlimited number and variety of farms. The SAN’s story is one of cooperation between groups with common goals and of creating links between the Northern and Southern hemispheres for the protection of tropical nature and the benefit of agricultural communities.
For the Conservation of Tropical Nature
The SAN’s history begins with that of its members, the oldest of which, Fundación Natura, was founded in Bogotá, Colombia in 1984. In 1987, a group rallying around the idea of tropical rainforest destruction founded the Rainforest Alliance that was incorporated in New York City. Concurrently, a group of biologists in Guatemala were creating the Fundación Interamericana de Investigación Tropical (FIIT), or Inter-American Tropical Research Foundation. In collaboration with Texas A&M University, FIIT biologists began compiling biological inventories of Guatemala’s varied ecosystems. At the same time, a group of biologists who were doing similar work in southern Mexico started a group to promote conservation in Chiapas that would eventually be called Pronatura Sur.
Rainforest Alliance and Fundacion Ambio started a partnership in Costa Rica that centered on the belief that environmentalists could effect positive change by working with commercial farmers to decrease the negative impacts and increase the social benefits of their operations. Meanwhile there was a boom in banana farming which was causing deforestation and intoxication of workers among other problems. With this in mind, they launched the Better Banana Project, or Proyecto Banano Amigo, in 1991, and the sustainable agriculture program in Costa Rica was born. A series of workshops were organized with farmers, scientists, activists and others to discuss ways to improve banana farming. The result was the elaboration of principles of sustainable agriculture and a standard that could be used to improve farms. The Rainforest Alliance designed and registered an ECO-OK seal and helped to develop a system for certifying farms that complied with the standard.
In 1992, Finca Platanera Río Sixaola, in Costa Rica, became the first farm to earn the ECO-OK seal. That same year, FIIT joined the program and began developing a standard for coffee farms in Guatemala. Other groups were also interested in promoting the environmental benefits of shade coffee farms, among them Fundación Natura, Pronatura Sur and SalvaNATURA, which was founded in El Salvador in 1990.
Two future SAN partners were founded in 1992: the Institute for Cooperation and Self Development, or ICADE, in Honduras, and Conservation and Development, or CyD, in Ecuador. CyD joined the movement in 1995, when it began developing a standard for cacao – the basis of chocolate. That same year, the Institute for Agricultural and Forestry Management Certification, or Imaflora, was founded in Brazil and began collaborating with the Rainforest Alliance on the work with sugar farms in Brazil. In 1995, Chiquita developed a long-term plan to get all of the company’s 115 banana farms certified. This allowed Fundación Ambio and the Rainforest Alliance to train a small corps of farm auditors, including biologists from CyD and FIIT. In 1996, the first coffee farm was certified in Guatemala, and in 1998, 41 cacao farms were certified in Ecuador.
The Birth of a Network
With so many groups working in different countries, the need for coordination was obvious, but it wasn’t until 1997 that the directors of CyD, FIIT, Fundación Ambio, Imaflora and the Rainforest Alliance gathered in a meeting where they agreed to form a network.
“The great thing about the SAN is that it is a network that was born in Latin America, together with the Rainforest Alliance, that has projected itself onto the world,” noted Mauricio Ferro, Co-Executive Director of CyD.
Building a Sustainable Market
In 2001, with the approval of the other SAN members, the Rainforest Alliance replaced ECO-OK with the Rainforest Alliance CertifiedTM seal, adorned with a green frog, which it began promoting on an international level. In 2003, various large and medium-sized companies started selling Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee in North America, Europe and Asia. Kraft Foods – one of the world’s top coffee roasters –launched various Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee products in North America and Europe in 2005. That same year, Chiquita began selling certified bananas in supermarkets across Europe, and certified chocolate and orange juice also appeared on store shelves. By 2006, global retail sales of Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee, bananas and chocolate exceeded U.S. $1 billion and there were more than 10,000 certified farms in 15 countries.
In subsequent years, certification has grown steadily and expanded to cover such new crops as flowers, pineapple and tea. In order to meet the growing demand and challenges of increasingly regulated markets, the SAN members decided to restructure their network and turn farm auditing over to independent organizations so that they could concentrate on improving the sustainable agriculture standard and helping farmers to adopt it. In 2007, the SAN created the International Standards Committee (ISC), and in 2008, it approved a revised and restructured standard. By the end of 2008, there were more than 31,000 certified farms covering approximately 500,000 hectares (1.3 million acres) in 19 countries, and the demand for certified products continued to grow.
Expanding for a Sustainable Future
The growing demand for Rainforest Alliance Certified products resulted in a growing number of requests for farm certification outside of Latin America. In 2006, auditors undertook the first farm inspections in Africa, which resulted in a group certification of 678 small coffee farmers in Ethiopia, followed by the certification of cacao farms in Ivory Coast, and the certification of the first tea plantation in Kenya in 2007. The first certifications in Asia were in the Philippines, followed by Indonesia and India. In 2012, Kenya´s certified farms grew to over 200,000 hectares in flowers, tea, and cocoa.
In 2010, the SAN also published a complementary Standard for Sustainable Cattle Production Systems, which included the participation of 165 stakeholders in 34 countries during public consultation processes. But the greatest milestone for the SAN in 2010 was the acceptance of its first Asian partner, Nature Conservation Foundation, of Mysore, India. India’s potential was already demonstrated by the fact that as of 2009, the country already had almost 200 certified coffee, tea and pepper farms.
By August of 2010, there were over 80,000 Rainforest Alliance Certified farms in 26 countries covering a total of over half a million hectares (approximately 1.4 million acres).
As of 2012, certification expanded to about 1.8 million hectares in 36 countries worldwide.