At one time cotton was the fourth largest agricultural export of Haiti, but it has been 30 years since the country has produced cotton. Last week we planted cotton seeds in Gonaives, Haiti, breaking the 3-decade hiatus and creating new opportunities for the people of Haiti which will include revitalized farming, a boosted economy, and greater environmental restoration through our continued tree planting efforts.
In partnership with the Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) we have embarked on a five-year mission to bring cotton back to Haiti, an initiative that will create growth opportunities for Haiti and its communities. To kick off our initiative we participated in a ceremonial planting of the first seeds to launch the field trials to see which cotton varieties will fare best and work best for our products. Cotton varieties from Brazil, India, and the U.S. were planted, along with one Haitian cotton strain still grown in local garden plots.
A PLAN FOR GROWTH
In addition to bringing cotton back to Haiti, this initiative will concurrently result in the planting of millions of trees in Haiti, leveraging a highly successful agroforestry model, developed in partnership with the SFA, from 2010-2015. Through this innovative partnership, thousands of smallholder farmers in Haiti earn valuable seeds, tools and training for their farm operations in return for tending tree nurseries.
The success of that program – more than 6.5 million trees planted to date, as well as significant increases in crop yields and income for the farmers – led us 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 agroforestry program, with smallholder farmers serving in tree nurseries and planting trees to earn cotton seeds, agricultural tools and training.
FROM FARM TO BOOT
“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 often talk about striving to be Earthkeepers as our mission; meaning we work hard to create responsible product, to protect the outdoors, and to serve communities around the globe where we do business. This next step with the SFA gives us an opportunity to hit upon all three aspects of being an Earthkeeper.”
In addition to helping to fund the five-year initiative, we have committed to purchase up to one-third of our annual global cotton supply from the Haitian smallholder farmers, subject to price, quality and volume. We are also working with the SFA to engage other stakeholders in the effort, within the industry as well as with our parent company VF Corporation (our sister brand Vans is also helping to fund the program 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, result in a minimum of 25 million trees planted, and connect the farmers to both local and global markets. It 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 services for all farmers, including exporting, marketing, financing, processing, organic certification, agricultural research, data management and other forms of support 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, Haiti’s Minister of Commerce and Industry. “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.”
For more information on the reintroduction of cotton to Haiti visit www.smallholderfarmersalliance.org.