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Questions & Answers

What is new in the 2017 SAN Standard?

While much of the standard is unchanged from the previous version, an important and innovative change is the “Continuous Improvement Framework.” This framework recognizes that sustainability is a path, a process over time, rather than a final or fixed destination. This system defines three performance levels focused on fourteen areas of mandatory improvement including key issues such as water, waste management, soil conservation, working conditions, and living wage. The levels are defined as Good (C), Better (B), and Best (A) sustainability performance. The continuous improvement framework in the 2017 SAN Standard requires farms to reach B level within three years, and to reach top level performances (Level A) by year six.

In addition, the entry requirements for certification have been strengthened with 14 new critical criteria summing up to a robust set of 37 Critical Criteria – 30% of all criteria for crop farms. There are six additional Critical Criteria for cattle farms and two for the group administrator’s management system. The Critical Criteria are a solid bottom line and cover the highest-priority and highest-risk environmental, social and labor issues, considered as essential first steps in the sustainability journey. Critical Criteria are the guarantee of entry-level performance for the farms that are certified.

The social and labor principle has been strengthened to further protect workers’ rights and improve the livelihoods of workers and their families. Other changes include the requirement of a farm’s planning cycle and that a proportion of the certified farmland to be under native vegetation. The 2017 SAN Standard is the first voluntary certification standard for sustainable agriculture to include specific risk mitigation criteria for pesticides classified as having inhalation risk to workers and bystanders and risk to aquatic life, wildlife and pollinators.


How does the 2017 SAN Standard address climate change?

The standard recognizes and seeks to address the challenges posed by climate change by promoting Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) designed to improve the resilience of farms and farming communities. CSA requirements are embedded throughout the standard and include protecting native ecosystems and biodiversity, avoiding deforestation, maintaining healthy soils, sustaining water resources, and guiding farmers to select and adopt climate-smart planting materials and farming practices. Additionally, the SAN Standard seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the use of fuel and chemical fertilizers, and to curtail methane emissions, while requiring maintenance or enhancement of carbon stocks in soils, forests, and other on-farm vegetation.


Why farms that comply with the 2017 SAN Standard requirements can be considered deforestation free?

The 2017 SAN Standard includes strict requirements to prevent land conversion, including deforestation and destruction of natural ecosystems. The standard contains Critical Criteria that aims to protect “High Conservation Value (HCV)” areas and enforce criteria prohibiting deforestation. This includes retroactive measures to ensure certified farms have not damaged HCV areas since November 2005.

In addition, the 2017 SAN Standard will only certify farms that have not destroyed natural ecosystems – including forests –in the 5 years previous being certified, with January 2014 as a cutoff date.

The standard also covers reforestation and restoration of natural ecosystems, and certified farms are required to conserve native vegetation, especially large native trees, zones adjacent to water bodies, and shade tree cover on production plots.


Will Level A criteria ever come into effect?

Yes, in order to remain certified, all organizations must comply with 50% of the applicable Level A criteria by year six, in their third certification audit with the 2017 SAN Standard. Even if the standard goes through periodic reviews, and slight adjustments are done to some criteria, it is important to start planning now in order to meet Level A criteria.


Can the 2017 SAN Standard be considered a pollinator-friendly standard?

Yes. The 2017 SAN Sustainable Agriculture Standard is the first voluntary certification standard of ISEAL members’ that enforces effective and specific measures to reduce negative impacts of pesticides to insect pollinator populations on farms in tropical and subtropical countries.

Based on a scientific risk assessment of the Oregon State University’s Integrated Plant Protection Center, the 2017 standard only authorizes the use of insecticides with proven risk to bees and other pollinators, if farms comply with specific SAN risk mitigation criteria.

These criteria include:

  • The mandatory implementation of an Integrated Pest Management plan that avoids or reduces the use of pesticides.
  • The restoration and conservation of more native vegetation for a more diverse agroecosystem that provides more food resources and reproduction sites for pollinators.
  • Avoiding the spray drift of insecticides to the core habitats of pollinators (natural ecosystems and flowering weeds) through non-spray zones and the establishment of vegetative barriers.
  • No spraying of insecticides when crops that provide nectar to pollinators are flourishing.
  • If bee hives are used, they are temporarily covered during application, and hive bees are provided with a clean water source outside the treated area.

Based on scientific evidence, SAN is prohibiting the use of the three neonicotinoids clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam and the phenylpyrazole fipronil, because they significantly affect bee populations, as well as other pollinators and birds.

Nevertheless, given the wide use of these substances (often called neonics) in tropical agriculture worldwide and current limitations to substitute them with less toxic but equally effective alternatives, SAN is establishing an exceptional phase-out for the use of these substances on certified farms until June 30, 2020.

This 2020 phase-out of neonics has been consulted with Northern and Southern stakeholders from Europe, West Africa, India and Latin America during 2015 and 2016. The immediate prohibition of these substances on SAN certified cocoa, coffee, tea, cattle and other farms would not be feasible, as these substances are a very widely used element for significant insect pest attacks for agriculture crops and cattle pasture in the world.


How does the 2017 SAN Standard address housing?

The 2017 SAN Standard includes a critical criterion requiring that worker housing provided by farm management is safe, disease-free, and adequately protects its occupants from extreme weather conditions. The 2017 SAN Standard also includes continuous improvement requirements for housing to meet requirements related to minimum area and hygiene facilities per occupant, ventilation, fire smoke evacuation mechanisms and privacy of workers and their families.


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