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Rainforest Alliance

Rainforest Alliance
The Rainforest Alliance Certified seal
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Founder Daniel Katz
Type NGO
Headquarters New York City
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Formerly called
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The Rainforest Alliance is a non-governmental organization (NGO) working to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior. Based in New York City with offices throughout North and South America, Asia, Africa and Europe and program work in more than 100 countries, the organization has earned a four star rating from Charity Navigator for more than five consecutive years. It was founded in 1987 by Daniel Katz, who serves on its board of directors, and is led by President Tensie Whelan.

The Rainforest Alliance harnesses market forces as part of its strategy to arrest the major drivers of deforestation and environmental destruction: timber extraction, agricultural expansion, cattle ranching and tourism. The organization trains farmers, foresters and tourism operators in sustainable practices that conserve land and waterways, improve livelihoods, and protect workers and communities; it also helps them access the financing necessary to implement sustainability changes. Farms and forestry enterprises are audited against rigorous standards maintained by the Sustainable Agriculture Network and the Forest Stewardship Council — international NGOs the Rainforest Alliance helped to found. Those farms and forestry enterprises that pass both annual and surprise audits are certified by the organization and earn the right to use the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal. Tourism businesses that adopt established best management practices can use the Rainforest Alliance Verified mark. The seal helps consumers support responsible farmers, foresters and tourism businesses by identifying products sourcing ingredients from these farms and services that have implemented best practices.

Rainforest Alliance programs

A woman picks coffee on the slopes of the Rainforest Alliance Certified cooperative Ciudad Barrios in El Salvador.

Sustainable forestry certification

The Rainforest Alliance launched the world’s first sustainable forestry certification program in 1989 to encourage market-driven and environmentally and socially responsible management of forests, tree farms and forest resources. The organization helped to found the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the non-profit international body that manages the standard, in 1993. Through its certification arm, RA-Cert, the Rainforest Alliance is accredited to certify forestry operations that meet the FSC's strict environmental, social and economic standards. Operations that earn certification can use a seal on wood products so consumers know that the wood they are buying comes from forestlands that are managed in a way that conserves biodiversity and ensures the rights of workers and local people. The Rainforest Alliance has certified more than 188,079,255 acres (76,112,974 hectares) of forest worldwide, making it the largest FSC certifier of forestlands in the world. The Rainforest Alliance's forest certification program was ranked "top of the class" according to "Wood Products Legality Verification Systems: An Assessment," an independent report compiled by Greenpeace, a global environmental organization.[1]

The organization also connects certified forestry enterprises to buyers of forest products and provides marketing support for community forestry enterprises. By promoting green building and helping companies that purchase forest products to incorporate sustainability into their sourcing policies, they are also working to increase the demand for certified products.

The Rainforest Alliance also provides training and technical assistance to small forestry operations on how to implement sustainable land-management practices (sometimes with the end goal of earning certification) and educates consumer forest products businesses about conservation and certification.

Carbon offset verification

The organization verifies carbon offset projects to standards that address greenhouse gas sequestration, biodiversity conservation and sustainable livelihoods.[2] The Rainforest Alliance verifies projects to the American Carbon Registry Standard, the Carbon Fix Standard, the Climate Action Reserve Standard, the CDM Gold Standard, the Verified Carbon Standard, the standards of the Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance, the Chicago Climate Exchange and Plan Vivo.

Sustainable agriculture certification

The Rainforest Alliance's sustainable agriculture program includes training programs for and certification of small, medium and large farms that produce tropical crops, including coffee, bananas, cocoa, oranges, cut flowers, ferns, and tea. In recent years, the Rainforest Alliance has greatly expanded its work with smallholders, who now account for 75% of the farms (more than 783,000 farmers in all) certified by the organization. To obtain certification, farms must meet the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) standard,[3] which is designed to conserve ecosystems, protect biodiversity and waterways, conserve forests, reduce agrochemical use, and safeguard the well-being of workers local communities. The Rainforest Alliance certified the first banana plantation worldwide in 1993, the independent banana farm Platanera Rio Sixaola in Bribri/Costa Rica, owned by Volker Ribniger. By 2000, all Chiquita-owned banana farms in Latin America had earned Rainforest Alliance certification. Daniel Esty, professor of environmental science and policy at Yale University, and Andrew Winston, director of the corporate environmental strategy project at Yale University, reports that Chiquita spent $20 million over ten years to bring its farms up to Rainforest Alliance standards. Esty and Winston call the Chiquita - Rainforest Alliance partnership "one of the most strategic and effective in the world."[6]Unilever, the world's largest tea company, has committed to have all of its Lipton tea plantations Rainforest Alliance Certified by 2015.[7] The Rainforest Alliance is the secretariat of the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), a group including conservation organizations in nine countries in Latin America that work together to promote and increase the use of sustainable agricultural practices and manage the certification program. The Rainforest Alliance encourages businesses and consumers to support sustainable agriculture by buying products grown on certified farms. By January 2013, nearly 2,000 square kilometres (nearly 475,000 acres) of land on more than 4,500 farms and cooperatives in 12 countries were being managed sustainably under Rainforest Alliance certification.[4]

Crop standards and criteria

The organization requires that 50% of criteria under a certain principle (group of criteria) be achieved, and 80% overall.[5] Several of these criteria are "critical" and must be complied with for a farm to earn certification. They include an ecosystem conservation program, protection of wild animals and waterways, the prohibition of discrimination in work and hiring practices, the prohibition of contracting children under the age of 15, the use of protective gear for workers, guidelines about agrochemical use and the prohibition of transgenic crops.[6]

Rainforest Alliance Certified Seal

The Rainforest Alliance Certified Seal appears only on products that meet the crop standards and criteria detailed above. Consumer Reports judged the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal on agricultural products to be "highly meaningful." They noted that "The Rainforest Alliance Certified label is clear and meaningful in support of sustainable agriculture, social responsibility and integrated pest management. The label is consistent in meaning among all certified. The label does not consist of farmers and none of the members are certified by the Rainforest Alliance. In this sense, the organizations behind these labels are independent from the products they certify."[7] In February 2008, Ethical Corporation[8] called Rainforest Alliance certification a "rigorous, independently verified scheme."

Sustainable tourism

The organization launched a sustainable tourism program in 2000 and provides small- and medium-sized tourism businesses in Latin America with training and tools to minimize their impacts on the environment and local communities. Since there are almost 70 existing sustainable tourism certification initiatives worldwide, the Rainforest Alliance decided that it would be more productive to support local certification programs (rather than creating its own certification body), help increase their international recognition and establish regional networks of certification programs to share resources and information and create standards for certification criteria. They also provide marketing support, training and technical assistance to certified businesses and businesses in the process of becoming certified. In addition, they work internationally to create partnerships with tour operators (hotels,lodges, travel agents, etc...) to green all elements of the tourism supply chain. In March 2008, the Discovery Channel[9] noted that "the Rainforest Alliance has been a leader in developing a sort of meta-analysis of the various programs operating in the Americas - possibly leading to a world-wide standard for what ecotourism ought to achieve."


The organization also works to integrate sustainable tourism certification programs in the Americas, through a coalition known as Sustainable Tourism Certification Network of the Americas. The mission of the Network is to promote sustainable tourism in the region through strengthening tourism initiatives based on mutual respect and recognition, joint efforts, harmonizing systems, and sharing information and experience.

The organization has created a directory of sustainable tourism businesses in Latin America and the Caribbean called[10] In order to ensure that the hotels, tour operators, and other tourism businesses listed on the site are truly sustainable, the directory only includes businesses that are certified by independent, third-party sustainable tourism certification programs, verified by the Rainforest Alliance, or recommended as being sustainable by reputable organizations.

Education program

The organization works to help people of all ages understand the role that every person plays in biodiversity conservation. They do this through their education site—developed in conjunction with education experts—and their Adopt-a-Rainforest program. They also work with several schools around the country, to help teachers implement the lesson plans.

Learning site

The organization developed free, on-line curricula that offer complete lesson plans, stories (in English, Spanish and Portuguese), presentations, posters and articles about societies and flora and fauna in Latin America, plus on-the-ground conservation projects for kindergarten through eighth grade.

Adopt-A-Rainforest program

Through the Rainforest Alliance's Adopt-A-Rainforest program, individuals and school groups can donate money to support the programs described in the lesson plans. These donations can be made on the Rainforest Alliance website and describe exactly where the money goes and offers fundraising ideas.


The organization developed the Eco-Index website, a bilingual (English and Spanish) database of more than 1,250 profiles of conservation projects in North, Central and South America and the Caribbean. The site provides users with information about project summary, objectives, contact information, project budget and funders, accomplishments and goals, lessons learned, and reports and related Web sites. Users can search the Eco-Index by country, category, organization, funder, and/or project name. The site helps to create a cohesive network of conservationists by providing them with a space to share project data and reports, lessons learned, and best practices across language and geographic barriers. All information on the Eco-Index is available in English and Spanish; profiles of conservation projects in Brazil are also available in Portuguese.

Forest Now Declaration

Rainforest Alliance has also endorsed the Forests Now Declaration, calling for new market based mechanisms to protect tropical forests.


1987- 1988 • Rainforest Alliance is incorporated. First large-scale conference on rainforest destruction is held.[11]

1989 • Rainforest Alliance’s SmartWood program is founded.[11]

1990 • SmartWood certifies its first forest in Indonesia. • Banana standards are introduced and sustainable agriculture program, initially called ECO-O.K is launched.[11]

1991 • Forests in Honduras, Mexico and Belize are certified.[11]

1992 - 1993 • Adopt-A-Rainforest is launched to channel donations to grassroots conservation projects in Latin America.[11] • First Rainforest Alliance agriculture certification goes to two banana farms in Costa Rica and Hawaii.[11] • Forest Stewardship Council, an international sustainable forestry management accreditation body, is established.[11]

1994 • SmartWood expands to temperate and boreal forests in the US and Canada.[11] • The first two Chiquita-owned banana farms are certified.[11]

1995 • First coffee farms are certified in Guatemala. • The Rainforest Alliance receives the Peter F. Drucker Award for Non-profit Innovation.

1996 • SmartWood Rediscovered for reuse of old wood is launched.[11] • SmartWood certifies forestlands owned by indigenous peoples in Mexico and Wisconsin.[11] • Work with Gibson USA results in the world’s first certified guitars.[11]

1997 • All Chiquita-owned farms in Costa Rica become Rainforest Alliance Certified. Chiquita commits to certifying all its farms throughout Latin America.[11] • Cocoa program is launched in partnership with Conservación y Desarrollo.[11] • First Rainforest Alliance certification of citrus groves goes to Del Oro in Northwestern Costa Rica.[11]

1998 • The Conservation Agriculture Network, later renamed the Sustainable Agriculture Network, is formed to develop guidelines for sustainable farming.[11] • First shade-grown cocoa certification awarded to El Progreso cooperative in Ecuador.[11]

1999 • SmartWood certifies its first non-timber forest products operation.[11] • The Coffee and Biodiversity Project is launched to address environmental degradation in El Salvador by using shade-grown coffee farms to buffer ecologically sensitive land.[11] • Rainforest Alliance receives the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Gold Circle Award for excellence in nonprofit communications.[11]

2000 • Daniel Katz steps down as executive director and becomes board chairman. Tensie Whelan becomes executive director of the organization.[11] • SmartWood certifies all of New York State’s multiple-use public forestlands. In Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve, five community forestry operations are certified.[11] • Fifteen percent of bananas in trade are grown on Rainforest Alliance Certified farms.[11] • SmartVoyager tourism certification is launched in partnership with Conservación y Desarrollo. • Eco-Index is launched.[11]

2001 • SmartWood certifications expand to include municipal forests, state parks, maple syrup, pencils and snowboards.[11] • 100 percent certification of Chiquita's company-owned farms earn certification.[11] • Fern and flower certification program is launched in Colombia, Ecuador and Costa Rica.[11] • Training Research Extension Education Systems (TREES) program is established to give small, community and indigenous forestry operations access to certification.[11]

2002 • Twelve hundred companies and cooperatives have adopted Rainforest Alliance sustainable practices.[11] • SmartWood expands certification to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.[11] • First two banana farms in South-east Asia.[11] • The first nine fern farms are certified in Costa Rica.[11]

2003 • Total area of certified forestland reaches 25 million acres (100,000 km²). SmartWood certifies its first US company, the first North America boreal forest, the first certification in Russia and the largest certified forest in Japan.[11] • Sustainable Tourism Certification Network of the Americas is established to accredit tourism certification programs.[11] • Rainforest Alliance Learning Site is launched.[11]

2004 • Total area of forests certified reaches 33 million acres (130,000 km²).[11] • Total combined area of certified coffee farms roughly doubles over 2003 levels—from 46,000 to 93,000 acres (190 to 380 km²).[11] • Procter & Gamble's introduction of Millstone Rainforest Reserve coffee in the US and Kraft's launch of Kenco Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee in the UK. Gloria Jean's entire line of flavored coffees is certified. Certified coffee becomes available in Belgium, Japan and Canada.[11] • "Cupping for Quality" is the first formal coffee competition where the emerging field of "certified-sustainable" coffee receives gourmet evaluation by leading coffee experts.[12] • Certified Sustainable Products Alliance is launched with the aim of bringing to market increased quantities of sustainable bananas, coffee and timber.[11]

2005JP Morgan, Citigroup, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald's, Nike, the HSBC Bank and others print their annual and corporate social responsibility reports on certified paper.[11] • Certified coffee production doubles over 2004 levels.[11] • Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee wins first place in the World Barista Championship and the second "Cupping for Quality" event.[11] • Chiquita sells 50 million bananas bearing the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal each week in nine European countries.[11]

2006 • The area of Forest Stewardship Council/Rainforest Alliance Certified forestland reaches 100 million acres (400,000 km²).[11] • Certified coffee volumes double again for the third year in a row.[11] • First African coffee farms are certified in Ethiopia.[11] • Launch of African cocoa program in Côte d'Ivoire.[11] • Launch of, a database of sustainable tourism businesses.[11] • Launch of Migratory Species Pathway.[11] • Pineapple certification criteria are established.[11]

2007 • Launch of standards for teaUnilever announces that it is converting all the tea used in its Lipton and PG Tips brands to Rainforest Alliance certified sources. Certification will start in Kenya.[13]

2008McDonald's New Zealand and Australia switches all McCafe restaurants to Rainforest Alliance certified coffee beans

2012Caribou Coffee becomes the first major coffeehouse to use only Rainforest Alliance certified coffee beans

Criticism and response

Some academics, environmental groups, and media sources have criticised Rainforest Alliance agricultural certification, mostly with accusations of greenwashing. The Manchester Evening News notes that some critics have dubbed the Rainforest Alliance "Fairtrade lite",[14] offering companies such as Chiquita and Kraft a way to tap into the ethical consumer market. Alex Nicholls, professor of social entrepreneurship at Oxford University, called Rainforest Alliance certification "a less expensive way for companies to answer consumers’ concerns about sustainability than to achieve Fair Trade certification."[15]

However, in a comparison of the Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance certification systems by the International Trade Center, the Rainforest Alliance ranks as more rigorous in nearly every category.[16]

File:Rainforest Alliance Fair Trade ITC Comparison 1.jpg
A comparison of Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade certification systems criteria.

According to a 2012 study,[17] Rainforest Alliance Certified Cocoa farms in Côte d'Ivoire produced 40 percent more cocoa per acre than noncertified farms. Net income on certified farms also increased by 400%. This was achieved not through price premiums, but through increased yields due to healthier lands and improved farm management.

In a 2012 comparison[18] of certified and noncertified coffee farms in Colombia, certified farms had significantly higher rates of: protective-equipment usage for chemical applications; specialized warehouses dedicated to chemical storage; employee training in first aid and pesticide application; septic-tank use; and solid-waste collection.

In a survey of Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee farms in Nicaragua,[19] farmers reported that since earning certification in 2004, the combination of fewer chemicals and a better quality of life had led to improved overall health, and that their workers now had better shower and toilet facilities.

A 2013 report by Cenicafe, an independent Colombian coffee research institution, found evidence that Rainforest Alliance certification has a positive effect on the environment in and around farms:[18]

  • Rainforest Alliance Certified farms located next to natural forests can extend wildlife corridors, providing habitat for the threatened night monkey (Aotus lemurinus).
  • Researchers found that arthropod richness was significantly higher on certified farms than on noncertified farms, indicating better soil health on certified farms.
  • Researchers measured several indicators of stream quality on 27 Rainforest Alliance Certified farms and 27 noncertified farms in Cundinamarca and Santander and found that stream quality was better on certified farms. Indicators included: structural indicators (erosion and streamside vegetation), biological indicators (pollution-sensitive macro-invertebrates), and chemical indicators (dissolved oxygen and pH). Results showed that in both regions, certified farms have significantly healthier streams than noncertified farms.

Minimum price issues

Rainforest Alliance sustainable agriculture certification, like the certification schemes UTZ Certified and organic,[20] does not offer producers minimum or guaranteed price,[21] therefore leaving them vulnerable to market price variations: as an example, in the 1980s, a pound of standard-grade coffee sold for around US $1.20. In 2003, a pound sold for about $0.50, which was not enough to cover the costs of production in much of the world.[22] The price of coffee has since rebounded somewhat, with prices for arabica reaching $1.18/pound by the end of 2007.[23] (It should be noted, however, that Fair Trade’s minimum pricing requirements have come under criticism as well, notably for lack of evidence that Fair Trade farmers actually receive higher prices.)

The Rainforest Alliance counters that a system that focuses primarily on pricing misses out on a number of other critical elements that influence whether or not a farmer can transcend poverty and sustain future generations on the land. For example, price-based systems depend on the willingness of customers to pay premiums for certified products. But this approach is of little use to farmers who cannot reach such buyers. Others, including UTZ, another certification system, have argued that price minimums distort the market, which is an important force in scaling up good practices. Maximizing yields and protecting the long-term health of the land are critical to the economic sustainability of any certification system.

Although many Rainforest Alliance Certified farms do in fact achieve price premiums for high-quality product, Rainforest Alliance focuses on improving the entire spectrum of farming practices. Third-party studies have shown the organization’s approach to be effective in raising both income and net revenue for farmers.[24]

Michigan State University professor of sociology Daniel Jaffee has criticized Rainforest Alliance certification, claiming that its standards are "arguably far lower than fair trade's" and saying "they establish minimum housing and sanitary conditions but do not stipulate a minimum price for coffee. Critically, they require plantation owners only to pay laborers the national minimum wage, a notoriously inadequate standard."[25]

The Economist favors the Rainforest Alliance's method and notes that "guaranteeing a minimum price [as Fairtrade does] means there is no incentive to improve quality." They also note that coffee drinkers say "the quality of Fairtrade brews varies widely. The Rainforest Alliance does things differently. It does not guarantee a minimum price or offer a premium but provides training advice. That consumers are often willing to pay more for a product with the [Rainforest Alliance] logo on it is an added bonus, not the result of a formal subsidy scheme; such products must still fend for themselves in the marketplace."[26]

Minimum price programs, which ensure that farmers receive no less than a given, predetermined amount, regardless of the commodity price, have been criticized by some economists[citation needed] as artificially manipulating markets and counter-intuitively limiting the impact of minimum price goods, by making them too expensive for some consumers to afford.

Use of seal

The organization certification has been criticized for allowing the use of the seal on products containing a minimum of 30% of certified content.[27] According to Michael Conroy, former chairman of the board for Fair Trade USA,[28] this use of the seal is the "most damaging dimension" of [Rainforest Alliance's] agricultural certification program and "a serious blow to the integrity of certification".

Consumer Reports[29] counters Conroy's implication that the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal is misleading. Consumer Reports classifies the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal on agricultural products as "somewhat meaningful."

The Rainforest Alliance responds that a greater positive impact can be made by engaging with companies of all sizes and offering 30% as an entry point. A large company that agrees to source at 30% can have a greater scale of impact due to higher product volume (e.g. 30% of 1,000 tons is substantially more than 100% of 100 tons). The entry point is also intended to address limited availability of certain products, since in some cases, years of work are required to train and certify enough farms to meet a large company's commodity needs.[citation needed]

The organization requires companies to increase quantities of certified ingredients as more product becomes available and maintains a database detailing these commitments. The organization also requires companies to clearly disclose the percentage of Rainforest Alliance Certified content if it is less than 90%.

See also


  1. Publication - 30 January, 2008 (2008-01-30). "Wood Products Legality Verification Systems | Greenpeace International". Retrieved 2015-05-29. 
  2. "Carbon Standards and Services". Rainforest Alliance. Retrieved 2011-12-06. 
  3. [1][dead link]
  4. "Agriculture Certification". Retrieved 2015-05-29. 
  5. Rainforest Alliance (2006). Sustainable Agriculture Standards. URL accessed on October 27, 2006.
  6. [2][dead link]
  7. Consumer Reports: Greener Choices. (March 2008) Resources:Eco-labels Center: Rainforest Alliance URL accessed March 24, 2008
  8. Ethical Corporation (February 11, 2008) [3] "Brazilian Coffee: A Heady Brew of Higher Standards." Oliver Balch
  9. Discovery Channel. "Leave nothing behind: Five Low impact Eco-Tours" March 2008
  10. [4] URL accessed January 11, 2012.
  11. 11.00 11.01 11.02 11.03 11.04 11.05 11.06 11.07 11.08 11.09 11.10 11.11 11.12 11.13 11.14 11.15 11.16 11.17 11.18 11.19 11.20 11.21 11.22 11.23 11.24 11.25 11.26 11.27 11.28 11.29 11.30 11.31 11.32 11.33 11.34 11.35 11.36 11.37 11.38 11.39 11.40 11.41 11.42 11.43 11.44 11.45 11.46 11.47 11.48 11.49 "About Us: Rainforest Alliance Timeline". 2010-10-15. Retrieved 2010-10-15. 
  12. "Certified Sustainable Coffee is Recognized for Outstanding Quality at Rainforest Alliance Cupping for Quality Event".\accessdate=2015-05-29. 
  13. Nicholson, Marcy (2007-05-25). "Unilever to sell environmentally sustainable tea". Retrieved 2015-05-29. 
  14. Manchester Evening News (2007). McDonald's brew a forest-friendly coffee. URL accessed on January 20, 2007.
  15. Nicholls, Alex; Opal, Charlotte (2005). Fair Trade: Market-Driven Ethical Consumption
  16. "File:Rainforest Alliance Fair Trade ITC Comparison 1.jpg - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia". 2014-03-07. Retrieved 2015-05-29. 
  17. "The COSA Measuring Sustainability Report" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-05-29. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 "Impacts of Rainforest Alliance Certification on Coffee Farms in Colombia". Retrieved 2015-05-29. 
  19. "Sustainable Coffee Farming" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-05-29. 
  20. "Organic Certification | USDA". 2011-11-15. Retrieved 2011-12-06. 
  21. Ethical Corporation (January 2005). Bean Wars. URL accessed on September 3, 2006.
  22. National Geographic (April 24, 2003). Coffee Glut Brews Crisis For Farmers, Wildlife. URL accessed on August 12, 2007.
  23. "Coffee costs soar into 2008". Retrieved 2011-12-06. 
  24. "Certification on Cocoa Farms in Côte d’Ivoire". Retrieved 2015-05-29. 
  25. Jaffee, Daniel (2007). Brewing Justice: Fair Trade Coffee, Sustainability and Survival. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-24959-2
  26. The Economist (2006, December 7)Voting with your trolley URL accessed on August 10, 2007
  27. The Guardian (2004, November 24).Who Is the Fairest of them All?. URL accessed on August 30, 2006.
  28. "TransFair USA | Board Members". 2009-06-27. Retrieved 2015-05-29. 
  29. "Search by label: Label information". Retrieved 2011-12-06. 

External links