Global outdoor lifestyle brand Timberland, Impact Farming and Haiti-based Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) today announced the launch of a new feasibility study exploring the possibility of reintroducing cotton as an export crop for Haitian smallholder farmers. If the study proves successful, the opportunities for organic cotton farming in Haiti are extensive, and companies like Timberland can one day transition from being early supporters of the SFA agroforestry enterprise to being its customers.
Cotton was once a valuable agricultural export from Haiti. After decades of natural disasters, rampant deforestation and trade embargoes in the early 1990s, cotton stopped being a viable crop for farmers. With support from the SFA, Timberland and the Clinton Foundation, Impact Farming is undertaking the new study to assess the feasibility of smallholder cultivation of cotton and organic certification or participation in the Better Cotton Initiative. The study could further empower the Haitian smallholder farming community to become an active participant in the global supply chain.
In 2010, Timberland and SFA embarked upon the creation of a powerful sustainable agroforestry model that helped Haitian smallholder farmers plant five million trees in five years while simultaneously improving crop yields, creating a microfinance program and rural farm business and more recently, building an agricultural export market for “superfood” moringa. In fact, last month, U.S. brand Kuli Kuli launched a new line of Moringa Green Energy shots made with moringa sourced from smallholder farmers in Haiti and sold at Whole Foods Market stores nationwide.
“Our program with Timberland was so successful that we saw the potential to replicate the model in Haiti and other developing countries, and scale it to cotton, rubber or other textiles and resources,” said Hugh Locke, co-founder of the Smallholder Farmers Alliance. “This feasibility study is the first step in potentially changing the dynamics of international development and sourcing. It is a true testament to the impact that collaboration, creativity and long-term thinking can have on the future of a country like Haiti.”
As part of this study, the SFA is working with Université Quisqueya, Haiti’s leading private university, to explore the establishment of a new smallholder cotton research center that will study cotton growing best practices, undertake field studies and link with universities and research facilities in other countries engaged in similar work.
“Our partnership with the SFA has already resulted in significant benefits for smallholder farmers in Haiti,” said Colleen Vien, sustainability director for Timberland. “We’re eager to see the results of the study and potentially become a customer of the farmers we have been working with for years. If successful, this is another great opportunity to bring a part of our supply chain full circle.”
Timberland and the SFA worked together to create a model whereby farmers voluntarily tend to a network of nurseries that produce one million trees annually. In return, farmers receive training, crop seeds, seedlings and tools that help restore tree cover and increase the farmers’ own crop yields – a mutually beneficial and sustainable cycle. To date, this self-sustaining business model has resulted in the planting of 5.2 million trees and helped 3,200 farmers increase productivity on their farmlands by an average of 40 percent, resulting in increased household income of 50 percent, on average. The program has also resulted in increased access to education and healthcare, including an estimated 3,400 additional children of SFA members placed in school. The journey is captured in a powerful documentary film titled, “KOMBIT: The Cooperative,” which will tour 250+ U.S. markets this spring and summer.