The Rainforest Alliance was incorporated as a non-profit organisation 1987 in the US and works worldwide to conserve biodiversity and sets standards for sustainability for wildlife conservation. The Rainforest Alliance also works with farms and forestry enterprises to make their practices more sustainable as well as to create responsibly produced goods and services. The Rainforest Alliance was set up with respect and concern for natural environments as well as local peoples and all stakeholders, and believes that sustainability is only achievable through collaboration.
The Importance of the Rainforests
Rainforests have evolved over millions of years to become incredibly complex systems, in which millions of plant and animal species live in a delicate balance. Indigenous people have for many years looked to the rainforests as sources of food, clothing, shelter, medicines and fuel.
Today, the world relies on the rainforest for:
- Medicines: Rainforests are the source of many plant-derived pharmaceuticals including Atropine, Quinine, all of which were originally discovered and used by indigenous healers from the rainforest.
- Food: Many foods we use today originated in rainforests including coffee, bananas, fruits, nuts, rice and spices. The rainforest is also the source of products such as cane, rubber, gum, dyes, resins and tannins. Genes from wild plants found in the rainforests, are also used to fortify modern crop varieties to make them more resistance to pests and diseases.
- Timber and Paper: The rainforests are a major source of timber for wood products and raw materials to make paper.
The Rainforest and the Environment
Though we may not realise it, our greatest dependence on the rainforests is because of its impact on our climate. Rainforests have been described as “heat and water pumps”. Since rainforests are dark and wet, they absorb a large amount of heat from the sun. Moisture evaporates from the foliage, forming clouds, which are dispersed as far as the mid latitudes bringing rainfall. Rainforests trap a significant amount of rainfall and release it slowly, thereby replenishing ground water and streams and rivers, which is essential to the biodiversity that depends on these water bodies.
The rainforests, through photosynthesis, utilise carbon dioxide while releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. At the same, the rainforest hold on to a large amount of carbon in their biomass. Therefore, play an extremely important role in battling global warming. With the destruction of rainforests, the rate at which carbon dioxide can be drawn from the atmosphere is diminished. Also, when the rainforests and burnt down, the carbon they hold in their biomass, is released as carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, adding to global warming.
Typically, deforestation brings about soil erosion, floods, pollution and destruction of habitat and biodiversity. The rainforests are home to many plant and animal species, which are interdependent on each other. Destruction of rainforest affects the balance of these species, causing extinction and severely impacting the food chain.
Did You Know?
- Even though less than 1% of tropical plants have been tested for pharmaceutical properties, more than 25% of all modern pharmaceutical drugs originally came from rainforests
- In 1950, rainforests covered about 15% of the Earth’s surface. Today, rain forests span less that half of that figure, at about 6%
- It is estimated that roughly 80,000 acres of rainforest are destroyed each day. A further 80,000 acres are degraded daily.
- Experts estimate that we are losing 137 plant, animal and insect species every single day due to rainforest deforestation. That equates to 50,000 species a year.
Destruction of the Rainforest for Commerce
The destruction of rainforests can be attributed to large scaling felling for logging and pulpwood as well as permanent conversion of the rainforest for agricultural cultivation. The rainforests are also being destroyed by ‘slash and burn’ method for subsistence farming by local communities which does not allow the rainforest to regenerate. Rainforests are being converted for use as pasture, for mining operations, to create roads and other infrastructure for logging and mining projects, and dam constructions.
Even though there is increasing awareness regarding the plight of the rainforests, the demand for agricultural and forest products cannot be curbed. Since 1980, the global economy has tripled in size and world population has increased by 30%. Also, millions of people depend on the rainforests for their sustenance and livelihoods.
Environmentalists, governments and interest groups have realised that since the rainforest is being destroyed for commercial reasons, the solution lies also in commerce – in the sustainable use of rainforest resources that accounts for the stakeholders who stand to benefit in the process. A key attempt at the sustainable use of rainforest resources is the Rainforest Alliance.
The Rainforest Alliance Vision
The Rainforest Alliance envisions a sustainable society through placing a greater emphasis on responsible sourcing, production, consumption and equitable trade.
This means that businesses should function with adequate resources such as clean air and water, as well as healthy biodiversity and habitat. In the course of operations they should effectively manage waste and aim to reduce global warming. As employers, they should provide adequate remuneration, health care and education facilities to their employees.
The Rainforest Alliance also recognises the change required in the market system. In order for a sustainable market system to exist, supply chain management and public accountability need to become standard practices. Small and sustainable producers should have equal access to markets and infrastructural support, and product prices should reflect their social, economic and environmental value. Governments need to take the lead by introducing incentive and regulatory programs. Above all, society at large needs to be more aware, demanding and having access to products and choices that are made sustainably.
Rainforest Alliance and Agriculture
The Rainforest Alliance recognises that agriculture is the single largest threat to Tropical Rain Forests. Agricultural activities are largely responsible for contamination of water supplies, soil erosion, deforestation and destruction of habitats for wildlife.
Along with the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), the Rainforest Alliance has created a certification program for responsibly managed farms. The SAN is a coalition of independent, non-profit conservation groups of which the Rainforest Alliance currently holds the Standards and Policy Secretariat.
The Rainforest Eco-label is awarded by SAN to farms that meet their standards. These standards are set in compliance with ISEAL’s Code of Good Practice for Setting Social and Environmental Standards. Consumers can recognise products that have been certified by the Rainforest Alliance through the ‘green frog’ logo. This indicates that to consumers that products originate from responsible managed farms and methods that meet well set standards.
Currently, certified crops include bananas, coffee, cocoa, oranges, pineapples and flower and foliage farms. The certification also extends to smaller crops that are often grown in association with these commodities such as macadamia nuts, plantains and passion fruit. These certified farms are located in Brazil, Costa Rica, Columbia, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Cote D’Ivoire, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Nicaragua.
Rainforest Alliance and Forestry
Set up in 1989, and currently comprising a team of approximately 100 specialists, the Rainforest Alliance forestry division runs two main programs – SmartWood’s Certification and Verification services and the TREES (Training, Extension, Enterprises and Sourcing).
Through the SmartWoods Certification and Verifications services, responsible forest management operations can gain their Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certifications. The Rainforest Alliance has immense experience in FSC certification as it has certified more than 40% of the worldwide total of FSC Certification. Certificate holders working with the SmartWoods program can also use the Rainforest Alliance Seal. In addition to this, this program helps also helps companies identify and solve issues in forest management so they can obtain FSC certification. In order to conserve forests of high biological significance, the SmartWood Program helps companies verify High Conservation Value Forests. The SmartWood Program also provides legality verification to ensure that timber originates from legal sources.
Through the TREES program, the Rainforest Alliance works with small, medium sized and indigenous producers in becoming more efficient and create better links with buyers and markets. It helps organisations improve their supply chains as well as provides training programmes in business and organisational skills. The TREES Program also provides guidance for obtaining certifications, product development for wood and non-timber forest products, training and implementation of responsible purchasing policies. The Program also collaborates with academicians to release research papers and design training programs.
Rainforest Alliance and Tourism
The Rainforest Alliance believes that the tourism industry can become an effective tool for environmental conservation instead of depleting habitats, and that waste and pollution associated with tourism can be controlled. To this end, the Rainforest Alliance undertakes training and technical assistance for tourism entrepreneurs. These training modules and workshops notably teach entrepreneurs the best practices, green marketing and clean technologies. The Rainforest Alliance also provides tools and resources to organisations wishing to employ these practices. Responsible businesses in the tourism industry are promoted by the Rainforest Alliance in trade shows, events and marketing materials giving them greater exposure, increasing their profitability.
The Rainforest Alliance is keenly promoting certification within the tourism industry. Currently there are a number of sustainable tourism certification programmes in the world. The Rainforest Alliance encourages businesses that have completed its training programs to obtain certification with one of these certification programs.
The Rainforest Alliance is playing a key role in the development of the Sustainable Tourism Stewardship Council (STSC). The STSC is part of a United Nations led initiative “to promote a shift toward global sustainable production and consumption”. The STSC is a proposed global accreditation body for sustainable and eco-tourism programs. The Rainforest Alliance conducted and completed an 18 month feasibility study on the STSC and has also submitted a full implementation plan.
The Rainforest Alliance encourages travellers to make responsible and informed choices in an effort to promote sustainable and eco-tourism. Through its website, the Rainforest Alliance provides travellers with information and tips on how they can participate in this movement.
Rainforest Alliance and Education
The Rainforest Alliance is committed to spreading awareness and education about the conservation of biodiversity, especially aimed at children and their teachers. The Rainforest Alliance Learning Site has designed special program for teachers and attempts to teach children about respecting the environment, animal species, conservation of flora and fauna. The program is interactive, providing interesting facts, colouring books, crafts projects, and stories. In addition, it also encourages students to take up conservation initiatives and assists with tips on how students can contribute to protecting the environment.
The Adopt-A-Rainforest program allows individuals, schools and organisations to contribute funds to conservation groups to help protect the rainforests. Donations can be made to the Adopt-A-Rainforest currently support conservation projects in Belize, Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. These projects undertake crucial management activities such as the hiring, training and equipment of park rangers. They also undertake environmental education programmes for people living near these rainforests. They maintain ranger stations and other park facilities. Notably, they encourage and promote socially and environmentally responsible ventures in areas surrounding the forests.
The Rainforest Alliance also provides tips and supports fund raising event so that interested groups can make a difference to this cause and also provide information for general citizens to get involved in conservation efforts.
Neotropics Communications Programs
The Rainforest Alliance runs the Neotropics Communication Program to provide information about the challenges and solutions pertaining to North, Central and South America and the Bahamas. This program includes the:
Eco-Index - This is an online encyclopaedia of over 1000 conservation projects in the Americas. It provides comprehensive information about the region and ongoing efforts for the general public, as well as researchers, journalists and officials.
The Western Hemisphere Migratory Species Initiative Pathway is another service provided by the Rainforest Alliance. This provides information to conservationists and other stakeholders regarding efforts in conserving migratory birds and their habitats.
The Rainforest Alliance also provides the Eco-Index for Sustainable Tourism. This is a website that features Latin American and Caribbean businesses that are environmentally friendly or have received eco-tourism certifications. It also provides tips for responsible and sustainable travel.
The Rainforest Alliance also designs and conducts workshops for conservations groups, universities, journalists and government agencies on effective communication strategies on conservation.
- What is Tropical rainforest?
- Rainforests: What they are
- Where are the rainforests?
- Information on Rainforests
- The Rainforest Alliance
- Eco-Index: Better Conservation through Communication
- Eco-Index Sustainable Tourism features businesses in Latin America and the Caribbean
- The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs By Leslie Taylor
- Rainforest Alliance
- Eco Index
- Eco Index Sustainable Tourism