Every year at the Rainforest Alliance annual gala, we recognize the outstanding achievements made by individuals and companies in sustainable agriculture, forestry and tourism around the world. Next year for our 30th Anniversary Gala, we will continue to extend that honor to the men and women in local communities whose livelihoods directly depend on the land and who demonstrate an exceptional commitment to creating a more sustainable future.
Melanie Bayo, a highly skilled agronomist in Côte d’Ivoire, is the embodiment of the Rainforest Alliance’s mission and values and a model for effective work through local partnerships. She trained to become an auditor and in 2008 she succeeded in becoming the first accredited Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) auditor on the African continent.
To help the Rainforest Alliance and the SAN with its rapidly growing cocoa certification workload, Melanie began working with technicians—whom she hired and trained—to get cocoa producer groups up to speed on certification requirements. With encouragement from the Rainforest Alliance, she converted her consulting business into a NGO, known as Centre d’Education, Formation, Conseils et Audits (Center for Education, Training, Advisory Services and Audits- CEFCA), which became the first African member of the SAN in 2013.
She has built a strong collaboration with the Nestlé team the Rainforest Alliance works with in Côte d’Ivoire and the program has grown signicantly with her contributions. Melanie’s organization, CEFCA, has been instrumental to the incredible growth of the Rainforest Alliance program—certifying 130,000 farms in Côte d’Ivoire alone.
CEFCA’s work with the Rainforest Alliance’s cocoa project in the Tai National Park has provided training through Farmer Field Schools to 2,000 people, leveraged investment from Barry Callebaut, Mars, and IDH over its four years, and distributed 60,000 trees to farmers to improve the shade on the cocoa farm and to create buffer zones. Melanie also organized the Rainforest Alliance pilot project in sustainable yield, which in 2015 generated productivity increases of 169 percent on the participating farms.
This year, through further collaboration with the Arcus Foundation, CEFCA made two radio programs for the community on ecosystem protection and the role of the shade trees in sustainable cocoa production and the conservation of the Tai National Park. CEFCA also led activities to improve gender balance and integrate livelihood improvement schemes for women living in the surrounding villages of the Tai National Park through rearing chickens.
Project manager, government relations liaison, community activist, highly respected technician, and the mother of triplet teenage boys, Melanie is why the Rainforest Alliance has a large, successful program of work in Côte d’Ivoire.
Cooperative Agricole Mohaye d’Issia
The farmers who belong to the Cooperative Agricole Mohaye d’Issia, a cocoa-producing group in Côte d’Ivoire, are living proof that it takes dedication and persistence to change conventional practices. It’s taken them five continuous years of work to transform their farms, improve their community’s social infrastructure, and earn Rainforest Alliance certification across 90 percent of the farms in the co-op.
What’s even more impressive is the fact that they’ve accomplished this in the face of significant obstacles. In Côte d’Ivoire, it’s typical for cocoa communities to receive the support of an exporter group to help them transition to sustainable practices, but the farmers of Cooperative Agricole Mohaye d’Issia have gone it alone, with only their self-motivation as the spur. Despite dealing with cost issues and the unexplained resignation of key staff who made away with vital records, their commitment to certification and its principles has been unwavering.
Among the improvements they’ve made: the co-op’s farmers and their families now receive free medical screenings on a yearly basis, the community has built a borehole that provides access to potable water, and the co-op offers scholarship packages to more than 200 local school-age children to sponsor their education. Cooperative Agricole Mohaye d’Issia has become a vibrant example of the adage, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Federation of Cooperatives of the Verapaces (FEDECOVERA)
Federation of Cooperatives of the Verapaces (FEDECOVERA), a federation of indigenous Q’eqchi’ and Poqomchi Maya managing natural resources in the Alta Verapaz region of Guatemala, has worked with the Rainforest Alliance for 10 years. The organization’s restored pine forests have earned Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®)/Rainforest Alliance certification. Additionally, through a Rainforest Alliance connection, FEDECOVERA has cemented a partnership to sell pallets to Chiquita Banana. The 43 cooperatives of smallholders (made up of 25,000 families) use sustainable practices to produce timber, cardamom, and other products for national and international markets.
Through improved forest management, increased value-added capacity, and enhanced market linkages, the 40-year-old federation has successfully reforested vast areas, provided jobs, and has improved incomes in an area that has seen considerable upheaval in the midst of current and historic conflict. FEDECOVERA serves as a model for the world for sustainable, integrated, and smallholder-managed landscapes.
With decades of experiences exporting to five continents, FEDECOVERA’s work proves that multi-service cooperatives of smallholders can effectively organize to manage and market a range of products in global markets. As such, FEDECOVERA’s achievements stand as an important model for the Rainforest Alliance’s emerging work around sustainable landscapes.
Walter Méndez Barrios
Walter Manfredo Méndez Barrios dedicated his life to community and conservation in Guatemala. He was murdered on March 16, 2016, but in his brief 36 years on Earth, Walter made substantial contributions to the world of sustainability through his activism.
In his younger days as Assistant Mayor of his community, Walter championed socioeconomic development and when he was elected president of La Lucha Cooperative in 2013, he continued to be a voice for justice and equality. Believing that sustainable, community-based forestry was an important part of ensuring quality livelihoods and healthy forests, Walter championed best forest management practices.
In collaboration with the Rainforest Alliance, Walter presented the first integrated forest management plan to the National Council of Protected Areas. His visionary ideas included creating employment and investment opportunities by cultivating non-timber forests products such as ramón nuts and xate. This non-timber enterprise has been a tremendous success for Walter’s community, particularly for women and young people.
Walter’s legacy lives on through every healthy income and tree leaf that flourishes in his community from his tireless effort and bold leadership. His work proves that comprehensive sustainability, a cornerstone of the Rainforest Alliance’s mission, can be achieved through community forestry.
Felisa Navas Perez
Felisa Navas Perez has been an unshakable leader and defender of Guatemala’s precious Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR). Her determination and commitment have been key to maintaining the social fabric in the MBR even in the face of threats and intimidation from those opposed to the forest concessions.
She has ably served two terms as president of the forestry concession, Asociación Forestal Integral Cruce a La Colorada (AFICC). Amid political, social, and economic uncertainty, Felisa has kept the AFICC in good standing with certifying bodies from the state and has kept the concession solvent as other forestry concessions folded under the same pressures. Thanks to Felisa and her team, more than 1.4 million acres of forest in the MBR are sustainably managed.
By ensuring the health of the forest, Felisa is also supporting the people whose livelihoods depend on the forest. Women and youth in the Petén region have particularly benefited from sustainable forestry management by participating in harvesting and processing non-timber products like xate and ramón nuts. Previously, the concession only produced timber products.
The perseverance of Felisa, a widow with five children, is admirable. Her ability to protect forests, bolster her organization, and simultaneously strengthen relationships with government, communities, corporations, and nonprofits serves as an example for sustainability leadership worldwide.
For sustainable forestry to have the broadest possible impact, it must be accessible to all sizes and types of enterprises and communities—not just the ones with the deepest pockets. Victoria Santos has a long history of working with ejidos (community-run forestry enterprises) that have had little access to financing, helping these communities to adopt sustainable practices and keep the income that their forests generate.
A forester with a master’s degree in rural development, Victoria is the technical director of the Organization of Forest Producers of the Mayan Zone, an association of ejido members in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, where she has been promoting economically viable and socially equitable community forestry since 1985.
In the 1980s, as the ejidos began to manage their own forest resources, Victoria was instrumental in organizing and training ejido members. In the 1990s, she helped these communities sell their wood directly to Mexico’s railroads, for use as railroad ties. And in the last 10 years, she has been a proponent of a low-impact, low-cost timber extraction model—in contrast to the approach advocated by other foresters and government representatives in the region, who have focused on using large sawmills.
Through workshops organized in collaboration with the Rainforest Alliance, Victoria has helped the communities she represents to identify and promote high-conservation values in their forests—working with them to develop maps that highlight biodiversity hotspots and important wildlife corridors for species such as spider monkeys, jaguars, pumas, and tapirs.
These ejidos have also taken their first steps toward Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®)/Rainforest Alliance certification, initiating contact with a potential buyer of wooden guitar parts in the United States. Victoria’s commitment and innovative leadership have been crucial to the success of these communities.