Once the country's fourth largest agricultural export, cotton is making its comeback to Haiti after a 30-year absence. Today, global outdoor lifestyle brand Timberland, the Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) and Haiti’s Minister of Commerce and Industry, Pierre Marie Du Mény, announce the reintroduction of cotton as an anchor crop in Haiti which will help revitalize farming, boost the economy and contribute to environmental restoration through a link to tree planting.
Last week Timberland, the SFA and Minister Du Mény participated in a ceremonial planting of the first seeds to mark the start of cotton field trials near Gonaives, Haiti. Cotton varieties from Brazil, India, and the U.S. were planted, along with one Haitian cotton strain still grown in local garden plots. Next summer, the SFA will introduce cotton varieties that adapt best to local conditions and organic cultivation, and result in the highest quality cotton for cultivation in volume by smallholder farmers.
In addition to bringing cotton back to Haiti, this initiative will concurrently plant millions of trees, leveraging an innovative and highly successful agroforestry model developed by Timberland and the SFA over the course of five years. The success of that program – which has planted more than 6.5 million trees to date, and resulted in significant increases in crop yields and income for the farmers – led Timberland and the SFA to conduct a feasibility study, which confirmed the viability of bringing cotton back to Haiti, an optimal location from both agricultural and climatic perspectives. The cotton initiative will be modeled after the original partnership, with smallholder farmers planting trees in return for valuable cotton seeds, agricultural tools and training for their own farms.
“Timberland is excited to evolve our role from being a sponsor of the Smallholder Farmers Alliance to becoming a potential customer of this new cotton supply chain,” said Atlanta McIlwraith, senior manager of community engagement for Timberland. “We strive to be a company of Earthkeepers, meaning we work hard to make our products responsibly, to protect the outdoors, and to serve communities around the globe where we live, work and explore. This next step with the SFA gives us an opportunity to make a difference in all three areas.”
In addition to helping to fund the five-year initiative, Timberland has committed to purchase up to one-third of the Haitian farmers’ annual global cotton supply, subject to price, quality and volume. The brand is also working with the SFA to engage other stakeholders in the effort, within the industry as a whole as well as through Timberland’s parent company VF Corporation (sister brand Vans has also committed to support the program financially in its inaugural year).
Within five years, some 34,000 farmers (representing 17,000 farms) are projected to be owner-operators of a new network of social businesses that will more than double their current income, plant a minimum of 25 million trees, and connect the farmers to both local and global markets. The new network is also expected to increase the yields of food crops grown for local consumption and provide targeted support to empower women farmers through micro loans, business training and leadership opportunities, as well as provide access to a range of agricultural services typically available only to industrial-scale farmers.
“On behalf of the Haitian people, I want to thank Timberland and the Smallholder Farmers Alliance for bringing cotton back to Haiti,” said Minister Du Mény. “This is a big opportunity for our country and the people of Haiti. It will make smallholders more profitable, create more jobs and help the economy to grow.”
In related news, the SFA has forged a partnership with Swiss-based Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) to advise the SFA on its field trials and provide ongoing technical and training assistance. A global leader in the field of organic agriculture research, FiBL has extensive expertise in smallholder cotton production.
“Our new social business supply chain will blend public and private funding to incubate new farmer-owned-and-operated business enterprises,” said Hugh Locke, co-founder and director of the SFA. “With a modicum of strategic assistance, smallholders have the capacity to become a self-financed force to combat climate change, improve food security and empower women in Haiti and potentially throughout the developing world.”