Interview with Tensie Whelan, President Rainforest Alliance, James Beard Foundation Leadership Award Winner
The James Beard Foundation Leadership Awards recognize people taking a bold step towards the important and complex realms of sustainability, food access, and public health. Excellence of work, innovation in approach, and scale of impact within a community or the nation were among the criteria used to select this year’s 2012 winners.
Tensie Whelan, President, Rainforest Alliance, and Co-Chair, Sustainable Food Lab Advisory Board, is an Award Winner, and our Interview is below.
Gratitude Gourmet: Please tell me about this honor from the James Beard Foundation (JBF) and how were you able to transform the Rainforest Alliance into a respected international organization that works to transform land-use practices, business practices, and consumer behavior to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods?
Tensie Whelan: It's thrilling to have our work honored by the Foundation. We're excited to be included and to have the Foundation focus on sustainable food. We have certified millions of small producers in agriculture who then sell to restaurants, retailers, and brands to deliver high quality food. We've designed a comprehensive farm management program, helped improve productivity and quality, and the secret to success has been a sustainable agriculture standard - a win win that helps farmers succeed in the long term and help consumers feel confident about their purchases.
Gratitude Gourmet: Please tell me more about some successful Farmer Partnerships you have.
Tensie Whelan: Farmers from Kenya, Brazil are renaissance people - they have to understand both supply chains and nature that throws surprises at them - I'm humbled when I meet a farmer.
I was recently in Kenya - there are 560,000 small tea producers and each has 3-5 hectares of land. Tea is a cash crop, and what they use to send their kids to school - we have partnered with them and Lipton to established farmer field schools to get Rainforest Alliance Certified. Now, 350,000 have been certified. Farmers saw a benefit - field quality was improving. They started to see their water coming back, yields and productivity were going up - now we're up to the world's 10% of the world's tea-certified. Lipton made the difference -- they said we are going to help you and buy your product.
Gratitude Gourmet: Are there other Companies similar to Lipton partnering with Farmers?
Tensie Whelan: Mars has been an amazing partner in Cocoa - Chiquita in bananas - Kraft in coffee - Staples in paper products.
Gratitude Gourmet: If a large Company or Country wants to get involved in your Projects, how would they proceed?
Tensie Whelan: With a company, we would help them map their supply chain and work with their suppliers to certify the farms they buy from. We are working with governments to help them encourage more climate friendly agriculture. The government of Norway has funded us to help tropical countries get ready to access carbon markets with agriculture and logging practices that protect forests, water and wildlife.
Gratitude Gourmet: Would you like to share any final thoughts with our Gratitude Gourmet Readers?
Tensie Whelan: Sometimes choice becomes overwhelming - how do you choose between certificaton systems? What is a high priority in your business/restaurant? Solutions may not be available now, so you will need to help create that solution. Yet, as I'm traveling around the world, I'm impressed by all the innovation happening.
Buy Rainforest Alliance Certified products.
Whatever choices you're making, you're helping others to innovate that creates solutions for the world that is going to need them.