Top Reasons to Buy Sustainably Sourced Palo Azul
Our mission from the beginning was to share palo azul with millions of people so that others could discover this magical tea that my family and I love so much. In order to do this, we knew that a regenerative agriculture approach would be necessary in order to promote this plant's propagation in a way that is sustainable for the ecosystem and the farmers. Fortunately, our supplier is Rainforest Alliance Certified, which means that they practice sustainable agriculture and they're constantly planting palo azul trees.
What Does Rainforest Alliance Mean? “The seal means that the certified product or ingredient was produced using methods that support the three pillars of sustainability: social, economic, and environmental.”
1. What is Sustainable Agriculture?
This article by the Rainforest Alliance explains the following: “Definitions differ, but at its heart, sustainable agriculture is about meeting the needs of the present, without sacrificing those of tomorrow—it’s farming that is environmentally sound, socially responsible, and profitable for farmers. Sustainable agriculture strives for the best long-term outcomes for forests, climate stability, human rights, and livelihoods.”
So how can we promote farming that’s environmentally sound? The Rainforest Alliance explains 4 ways to do it in this article:
- The healthier the soil, the better it retains moisture, which can help plants survive drought.
- Healthy soil also leads to higher crop yields, thereby reducing the economic desperation that drives farmers to clear forests in search of fertile earth.
- Organic composting enriches soil and reduces the need for expensive chemical fertilizers, which also pollute waterways.
- Rotating different types of cover crops—plants grown in the off-season to prevent soil erosion—can also greatly bolster soil quality.
- Integrated pest and weed management includes introducing natural enemies of common pests, “selective weeding” that allows beneficial weeds to replenish the soil, and managing weed outbreaks with regular pruning. Meanwhile, harmful weeds can be uprooted by hand and turned into organic fertilizer. Though more labor-intensive at first, these methods have been proven to reduce costs and boost crop yields in the long run in many cases.
What is Conventional farming?
In this article, The Rainforest Alliance explains that “conventional farming methods are highly intensive; they strip soils of their nutrients, steadily reducing crop productivity season after season. In desperation, subsistence farmers across the tropics—most of whom live in poverty—are then driven to clear nearby forests in search of new fertile earth.”
Moreover, the Rainforest Alliance mentions in this article that “with a population projected to reach a staggering 9.8 billion by 2050, farmers will have to produce more food than ever before. Unfortunately, conventional farming methods degrade land, which actually reduces crop productivity over time—and that can prompt smallholder farmers to cut down nearby forests in search of new fertile earth.”
They explain that “if we are to keep our forests standing, we need to help farmers break this vicious cycle by promoting more sustainable agricultural practices. These techniques are designed to maximize the productivity of existing farmland in order to prevent encroachment into the forest, including: boosting soil health through composting, integrated weed management, crop rotation, and climate-smart techniques for conserving water and preventing diseases.”
Sustainable agriculture is not only better for the health of the environment, it’s also better for the health of farmers. As the previously cited Rainforest Alliance article explains, “heavy reliance on pesticides and herbicides carries high risks, and not just for ecosystems—these harsh chemicals can also harm the health of farmers and their families.”
In summary, rather than depleting nutrients from soil by using synthetic fertilizers, we should promote sustainable farming practices in order to avoid deforestation and harming the health of farmers.
2. Climate Change & Deforestation
Rainforest Alliance: Eliminating Deforestation from Ghana’s Cocoa Supply Chain
One of the main goals of the Rainforest Alliance is to protect the forests because they are essential for our livelihood and preventing climate change. In this article, they describe the purpose of their certification programs:
“Our training and certification programs promote best practices for protecting standing forests, preventing the expansion of cropland into forests; fostering the health of trees, soils, and waterways; and protecting native forests. Our certification programs promote responsible land management methods that increase carbon storage while avoiding deforestation, which fuels greenhouse gas emissions. The climate-smart practices embedded in our agricultural training and certification programs help farmers to build resilience to droughts, flooding, and erosion.”
This Rainforest Alliance article emphasizes the importance of protecting the forests: “These ecological powerhouses support the livelihoods of 1.6 billion people and host 80 percent of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. Their ability to generate rainfall is vital for millions of farmers around the world—as well as global food security. And, as the fight to stave off climate change escalates, forests could be our most important natural climate solution.”
How does deforestation contribute to global warming?
The previously cited article explains the following: “As they grow, trees absorb the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming, converting them into pure oxygen. Forests also play a critical role in cooling the planet, regulating local micro-climates by providing shade and transpiring water. Some studies estimate that conserving forests could cut 7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide each year—the equivalent of getting rid of every car on the planet.”
“Trees make it rain. They suck moisture out of the soil through their roots and release it into the air through their leaves—creating rainclouds and shaping global weather patterns. Scientists have observed that air that has passed over tropical forests produces twice as much rain as air that passes over less densely vegetated areas. These forests create giant “rivers in the sky” that generate rainfall hundreds to thousands of miles away. But without forests, experts warn that continental interiors would turn to desert, and streams and even huge rivers like the Nile could run dry. And yet, global deforestation rates are still accelerating—robbing us of our best defense against climate change, threatening global food security, and causing extreme hardship for farming and forest communities around the world.”
Asides from capturing greenhouse gasses and preventing them from accumulating in the atmosphere, the Rainforest Alliance explains in this article that “we’re also creating emissions by cutting down trees: when trees are felled, they release into the atmosphere all the carbon they’ve been storing. What the deforesters do with the felled trees—either leaving them to rot on the forest floor or burning them—creates further emissions. All told, deforestation on its own causes about 10 percent of worldwide emissions.”
When we destroy forests, we not only lose “our best ally in capturing the staggering amount of GHGs we humans create (which we do primarily by burning fossil fuels at energy facilities, and of course, in cars, planes, and trains)”, but we also release the carbon that was stored in the trees.
What is the main reason for deforestation?
In the previously cited article, the Rainforest Alliance explains that “the main reason is agriculture. The world’s exploding population has made it profitable for big business to raze forests so it can plant mega crops like soy and palm oil. But there’s a tragic irony to clearing rainforests for agriculture: their underlying soils are extremely poor. All the nutrient-richness is locked up in the forests themselves, so once they are burned and the nutrients from their ashes are used up, farmers are left with utterly useless soil. So on they go to the next patch of forest: raze, plant, deplete, repeat. All told, agriculture is responsible for at least 80 percent of tropical deforestation.”
In fact, this 2020 study found that “2% of properties in the Amazon and Cerrado are responsible for 62% of all potentially illegal deforestation and that roughly 20% of soy exports to the EU may be contaminated with illegal deforestation.”
But deforestation isn’t the only negative impact to the environment that’s caused by agriculture. They go on to explain that “not surprisingly, agriculture causes emissions, too—in fact, farm emissions are second only to those of the energy sector in the dubious contest for the emissions title. In 2011, farms were responsible for about 13 percent of total global emissions. Most farm-related emissions come in the form of methane (cattle belching) and nitrous oxide (from fertilizers and the like).”
Lastly, they conclude with this summary of the 3 negative effects of deforestation:
“All told, deforestation causes a triple-whammy of global warming:
- We lose a crucial ally in keeping excess carbon out of the atmosphere (and in slowing global warming)
- Even more emissions are created when felled trees release the carbon they’d been storing, and rot or burn on the forest floor
- What most often replaces the now-vanished forest, livestock and crops, generate massive amounts of even more greenhouse gasses. Taken together, these emissions account for a quarter of all emissions worldwide.”
3. Human Rights
A truly sustainable farm would have to ensure that the farmers and their families can live a healthy, happy life with a decent standard of living and good working conditions. The Rainforest Alliance says it best in this article: “Farming can only be called sustainable if farmers can support their families.”
Furthermore, in this article they describe the following: “Our certification advances the rights of rural people and our assurance systems provide robust strategies for assessing and addressing child labor, forced labor, poor working conditions, low wages, gender inequality, and the violation of Indigenous land rights. Independent studies demonstrate that workers on certified farms are more likely to have better working conditions, personal protective gear, and labor protections.”
In the following quote, they describe the standard of living that certified farms strive for: “Workers should earn at least minimum wage, with employers eventually paying what is called a living wage—remuneration that allows for a decent standard of living that covers food, water, housing, education health care, transportation, clothing, and other essentials, including a provision for unexpected events.”
While this may seem like it would increase the costs of agriculture, sustainable practices may actually decrease costs if done properly. In this article, the Rainforest Alliance explains how:
“Fortunately, many of the approaches to improving farmer incomes improve the health of the Earth, too. Managing pests and weeds naturally, for example, reduces the need for harmful pesticides, thereby lowering costs. Planting fruit trees on farms can give farmers another product to sell, store carbon, and nourish soils.”
4. Rainforest Alliance vs Fair Trade
What is the difference between the Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade certifications?
Fair Trade’s Mission = Combat Poverty
This article by the Rainforest Alliance explains that Fairtrade’s mission is “to connect disadvantaged producers and consumers, promote fairer trading conditions and empower producers to combat poverty, strengthen their position and take more control over their lives. One way in which the Fairtrade program tackles poverty and helps producers is giving them a guaranteed minimum price and additional premium for their products. Besides the strong focus on decent livelihoods, the program addresses issues such as climate resilience, human rights, gender equality, and youth inclusion.”
Rainforest Alliance’s Mission = Sustainability & Protect Nature
The same article explains that “The Rainforest Alliance’s mission is to create a more sustainable world by using social and market forces to protect nature and improve the lives of farmers and forest communities. We address social, economic, and environmental improvement as inseparable elements of the broader goal of sustainability. Our approach is holistic and focuses on helping farmers grow their businesses and become more profitable and resilient through training in farm management, financial literacy, and market access.”
What are the similarities between the Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade?
The previously cited article describes their similarities: “We also share a commitment to high standards in our work, which is why we are both members of ISEAL (International Social and Environmental Accreditation & Labeling Alliance), the global association for social and environmental standards that works with companies, non-profit organizations, and governments to support the use of voluntary standards. Both the Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade are also founding members of the Global Living Wage Coalition and the Living Income Community of Practice. Both Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade certification programs include requirements on the three pillars of sustainability–social, environmental, and economic.”
In summary, the Rainforest Alliance certification is all about promoting sustainable agriculture practices which will lead to the best long term outcomes for the forests, climate stability, human rights and livelihoods. In doing so, we can help to promote a more sustainable world with a food system that’s capable of feeding the growing population and maintaining the health of our planet.