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Rainforest alliance certification of Kenyan tea farms: a contribution to sustainability or tokenism?

Ochieng, Benard
Fields of Research
An Environmental Management System (EMS) is an approach 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 a number of Kenyan tea farms in 2007 to promote sustainable tea production. It addresses the three pillars of sustainable development (environmental, economic and social) and as such is suited to tea farming which is characterised by job insecurity, strenuous work conditions, child labour and environmental resource degradation. As numbers of EMSs and pressures on organisations to adopt them increase, it is imperative to evaluate their contribution to achieving sustainability. In this study, a mix of methods - qualitative interviews with farm managers and government officials, quantitative interviews with farm workers, biophysical observation and secondary data - were used to compare agri-environmental and socio-economic indicators between certified and non-certified tea farms. Analysis of the results indicates that the RFC brings some important social and environmental benefits, for example, improved work conditions and to a limited extent, natural resource conservation. Certified tea farms maintain riparian strips to protect natural resources and also monitor their water quality more frequently than non-certified tea farms. However, there were no significant differences in some aspects including employees‘ housing conditions and source of cooking energy. Although there are important benefits from adopting the RFC, there are obvious gaps between certification and sustainability which need to be addressed if full benefits are to be achieved.