By Milagro Espinoza Martínez, Rainforest Alliance Senior Communications Manager for Latin America
Throughout the world, in more than 70 countries, thousands of agricultural and forest products companies have achieved agricultural or forestry certification through the Rainforest Alliance and Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC), but rarely does the same company hold certification in both sectors. Enter El Álamo Agricultural and Forestry Company Ltda, in the Retiro Commune of the Maule Region in Chile, which has achieved this unique distinction.
El Álamo tree plantations have been FSC Certified by the Rainforest Alliance since 2002, and the company recently achieved Rainforest Alliance Certification™ for its production of apples, grapes and blueberries.
In the more than three thousand hectares of land that encompass the farm, there are three areas of High Conservation Value (HCV). Two of the HCV areas are based upon environmental considerations: one is home to a regional bird refuge and in the other is a native forest. The third represents social HCV since it is the site of one of the main religious festivals of the Commune: the mass in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, a celebration that brings together a large part of the community.
El Álamo enjoys a good relationship with the local community, both for considerations such as respect for HCV areas, and for economic impact. Most of the company’s workforce comes from nearby communities. “We know that as an agroforestry company we generate impacts in the execution of our operations,” explains Jaime Venegas, forest manager of El Alamo. “That is why we have our matrix of impacts (positive and negative), which are all impacts as a result of our operations, identified with the objective of monitoring and decreasing the negatives. In addition, fundamental for us in our relationship with the community is to socialize our past and future activities by means of a meeting once a year, where the community members can make inquiries and suggestions.”
Since 2002, the company has achieved FSC certification through the Rainforest Alliance, demonstrating its commitment to the environment and the community by working in the best possible way in its forest plantations. This includes efforts such as following strict safety standards, making responsible and controlled use of authorized pesticides, providing appropriate working conditions for employees and, of course, ensuring respect and conservation of flora, fauna and their natural environment.
With a long commitment to certified forestry operations, it was not a difficult or complicated decision to also opt for Rainforest Alliance certification for the agricultural operations, becoming the first South American company with a “double Rainforest Alliance seal” last July. The certified forest plantations are poplar, a species used to make products such as ice cream sticks, cutlery, paint pallets, matches, and other products that are manufactured in the company’s factory. The agricultural areas with Rainforest Alliance certification supply the markets of the United States, Europe and Asia with apples and blueberries, while El Álamo grapes remain in the domestic market for the making of renowned Chilean wine.
For Rainforest Alliance, one element that gives us great satisfaction working with El Álamo Agricultural and Forestry Company is that they understand that having obtained both certifications is not the end of the process, but rather, they are committed to working in a framework of continuous improvement. Forest manager, Jaime Venegas, expressed it very well:
“We believe that the main thing is to continue working under international standards that require safe and updated work under new rules, and it obviously supports us that our growth as a company is sustainable. This means that we have to continue, as we have done so far, in a framework of continuous improvement of our activities, respecting the natural and social environment to reach an economic satisfaction as a subsidiary of one of the most important companies in Álamo nationwide.”