It has been more than 30 years since cotton was grown commercially in Haiti, having once been the country’s fourth largest agricultural export, according to its Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA).
A field trial of 15 different varieties marks the crop’s official return and is intended to serve as a catalyst for a new approach to working with smallholder farmers that puts them at the forefront of combatting climate change, improving food security and advancing women’s empowerment.
This new approach is based on a tree currency model pioneered by the SFA. Smallholders grow, transplant and look after trees as a way to earn credits that can be exchanged for high quality crop seed, farm tools and training in organic agriculture.
Grain and vegetable crop yields go up an average of 40 percent, while household income at least doubles for most. Women farmers participate on an equal footing with men, as well as having exclusive access to low interest microcredit loans.
The SFA is reintroducing cotton to Haiti using tree currency. Starting this summer, smallholders will plant trees in order to earn the cotton seed, farm tools and specialized agricultural training to grow it. Never planting more than half their farms in cotton and rotating cotton to the other half from one season to the next, smallholders will receive seed and support for the food crop half of their land, as well.
Tree currency will also earn them access to the export market for Haitian organic cotton being developed in partnership with outdoor brand Timberland, along with Patagonia and Vans.
[Read more about Timberland and Haiti: Timberland Steps In to Help Reintroduce Cotton Farming in Haiti]
The tree currency model has already resulted in the planting of more than 6.5 million trees since the SFA launched in 2010 with the corporate support of Timberland. Now that Timberland is switching from being a sponsor to becoming a potential client for organic cotton and enlisting other companies to help build an export market, the SFA estimates that around 25 million more trees will be planted over the next five years.
Smallholder farmer Nerlande Dautarn, said, “This is a great day for Haiti. My parents and my grandparents grew cotton not far from here. Now I can tell my children cotton is back after a long time away.”
The SFA noted that it received an endorsement for its cotton initiative from Carmel André Beliard, Haiti’s Minister of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development, and Pierre Marie Du Mény, Minister of Commerce and Industry, at a meeting convened by Haiti’s President, Jovenel Moïse. At a separate meeting earlier the same day, Pierre Simon Georges, Minister of the Environment, expressed his support for the SFA’s tree currency approach.
Gail Strickler, president of Global Trade for Brookfield Associates, recently told Sourcing Journal that “Haiti has a compelling story, with 100 percent of the factories part of the Better Works program. So you can rest assured that if it has a Made in Haiti label on it that factory is not just inspected but it has training in how to treat people.”