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Rainforest Alliance Certification of Kenyan tea farms: a contribution to sustainability or tokenism?

"An Environmental Management System (EMS) refers to a set of guidelines that organisations can use to structure their management to prevent or minimise adverse environmental and social impacts. Rainforest Alliance Certification (RFC), one example of an EMS, was adopted by some Kenyan tea farms in 2007 to promote sustainable tea production. RFC addresses the three pillars of sustainable development (environmental, economic and social) and as such is suited to tea farming which has been characterised by environmental resource degradation, job insecurity, strenuous work conditions and child labour. To study the effect of certification, interviews with farm managers, and farm workers on certified and non-certified tea farms were carried out. Sets of agri-environmental and socio-economic indicators were then compared using these data. The results indicate that the RFC brings some important social and environmental benefits to certified tea farms. These benefits include improved work conditions and to a limited extent, natural resource conservation. However, there were no differences between certified and non-certified farms in a number of aspects, including access to health services and employee living conditions. Two main conclusions can be drawn. First, although there are important sustainability benefits from adopting the RFC, more efforts are still needed to achieve sustainability on certified farms. Secondly, there are sufficient benefits to indicate that all tea farms should be encouraged to become certified."
Benard Omondi Ochieng, Kenneth Hughey, Hugh Bigsby
Lincoln University
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