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Could Cotton Make a Comeback as a Haitian Export Crop?

Outdoor lifestyle brand Timberland has teamed up with non-profit Impact Farming and Haiti-based Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) to explore the possibility of reintroducing cotton as an export crop in the Caribbean island.

The trifecta on Tuesday announced the launch of a feasibility study, which will investigate whether Haiti can become active in the global textile supply chain, particularly for organic cotton or participation in the Better Cotton Initiative.

Cotton, once the fourth largest agricultural export from Haiti, all but disappeared in the early ’90s after decades of natural disasters, rampant deforestation and trade embargoes.

Timberland and SFA started a sustainable agroforesty model on the island in 2010, which helped Haitian smallholder farmers to plant five million trees in five years.

“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,” Hugh Locke, SFA co-founder, said. “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, SFA is working with Université Quisqueya to explore the establishment of a new 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,” Colleen Vien, sustainability director for Timberland, said. “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.”

The study is being undertaken with a clear understanding that the following challenges need to be addressed:

• Can dryland, rain-fed cultivation of cotton produce the desired results
• What are the guidelines for growing it in rotation with basic food crops
• What is the cost-benefit analysis of organic certification and/or participation in in the Better Cotton Initiative
• What are the best approaches to protecting against pests and viruses, particularly within the framework of organic cultivation
• Where is the best source of starter seed that is going to work well in Haiti and result in the desired fiber length, noting that no genetically modified seed will be considered
• What will be the investment required to support the training of smallholders in cotton growing, as well as the infrastructure needed to support the export of raw cotton
• How can smallholder women farmers have a unique role in the supply chain for cotton, including the possibility of women-owned businesses to remove the seeds from cotton fiber

To learn more about the feasibility study, visit impactfarming.org and haitifarmers.org.

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