The HCV Approach will help boost conservation and secure livelihoods in Rainforest Alliance certified farms

This month, the Rainforest Alliance is launching its updated Sustainable Agriculture Standard (SAS), raising the bar for the way farms and products are certified and focusing on continuously improving agricultural production and conservation across scales.

Within the SAS, the HCV approach will help producers become aware of the risk they might pose to areas valuable for ecosystems and local communities. “The Rainforest Alliance recognizes the value of the internationally recognized HCV framework for identifying and managing critical environmental and social values in production landscapes,” says Henriette Walz, Global Theme Lead for Deforestation at Rainforest Alliance, and part of the team that worked with HCVN on tailoring the HCV approach for the updated standard.

Under the new SAS, producers will not be able to certify their crops, if they grow them on lands where natural ecosystems have been cleared for agriculture, which makes it a “non-conversion” standard. But despite ruling out the risk of land clearing, usually the biggest threat to HCVs, the standard still factors in other threats to environmental and social values. This is where the HCV approach comes in. “It provides a framework to maintain natural ecosystems, while providing extra social safeguards, so the standard requires farmers to maintain and enhance HCVs,” explains Olivia Scholtz, senior project manager at the HCVRN Secretariat. “In the new standard, the approach is used to understand threats, maintain values, and how to put in place a management and monitoring plan for those HCVs.”

“The new standard supports HCVs protection, through requirements for no-deforestation and no-conversion,” says Walz. “It also includes criteria for wildlife protection, mapping production areas and ecosystems, soil conservation, protecting natural ecosystems, natural vegetation and water, as well as requirements for protecting the rights of local communities.”

The SAS also adds extra protection to HCVs, which are defined using a risk-based approach, developed by HCVRN and Rainforest Alliance’s Standards team. A risk-based approach is a process that simplifies how requirements for HCV protection are used in a standard. “We want to understand if there are any gaps in the standard’s existing requirements” HCVRN’s Scholtz says. “The farmer starts with a questionnaire that helps them understand the level of risk their production poses and the type of measures they need to take.”

“Certificate holders will assess their risk based on a few questions regarding their location relative to protected areas, Key Biodiversity Areas, Intact Forest Landscapes, Ramsar sites, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, local communities and communal lands. For example, if a Rainforest Alliance Certified farm is identified to be in or near a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA), then specific management actions will be required to protect the KBA’s associated conservation feature, such as important animal and plant life present,” says Walz.

The HCV risk questionnaire is linked to the risk assessment all certified farms now need to conduct, and is aligned with Rainforest Alliance’s newly created geospatial database, where farms must provide georeferences for their farms’ boundaries.

According to Walz, the HCV approach will focus initially on big farms, with highest impacts expected for instance in Brazil and Ecuador, where certified banana, coffee, and cocoa farms are individually certified.

Read more about the new Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standard here.

Read more about HCVN’s risk-based approaches here.