Cotton is back in Haiti after a 30-year absence, having once been the country’s fourth largest agricultural export.
Outdoor lifestyle brand Timberland, the Smallholder Farmers Alliance and Haitian Minister of Commerce and Industry Pierre Marie Du Mény this week announced the reintroduction of cotton as an anchor crop.
The move is intended to help revitalize farming, boost the economy and contribute to environmental restoration.
The Alliance said the difference between 30 years ago and now is that cotton will be tree-financed. Smallholder farmers will plant trees to earn cotton seed, agricultural training and tools. Tree planting in this severely deforested country will also qualify farmers to sell to Timberland, which has committed to purchasing up to one third of its annual global cotton intake from Haiti—subject to price, quality and volume.
Within five years, the net impact is projected to be 34,000 farmers on 17,000 farms united as owner-operators of a network of new social businesses that will more than double their current income and result in a minimum of 25 million trees being planted. This new model will also 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, the Alliance noted.
Adding cotton to the local supply chain could also help boost efforts to revitalize apparel production in the beleaguered country.
[Read more about Haiti’s apparel industry: Weeks Long Strike in Haiti Cripples Garment Production]
The announcement of cotton’s return was marked by the planting of seeds as part of the SFA cotton trials near Gonaives, Haiti, of varieties from Brazil, India and the U.S., along with one Haitian type still grown in garden plots. The varieties that adapt best to local conditions, organic cultivation and result in the highest quality cotton will be introduced next summer for cultivation in volume by smallholder farmers.
“On behalf of the Haitian people I want to thank Timberland and the Smallholder Farmers Alliance for bringing cotton back to Haiti,” Du Mény said at a ceremony. “This is a big opportunity for the country and the people of Haiti. It will make smallholders more profitable, create more jobs and help the economy to grow.”
The story of cotton returning to Haiti began in 2010 when Timberland sponsored the planting of 5 million trees in Haiti over five years through the SFA.
“Thousands of smallholders earned better grain and vegetable seeds, farm tools, training and other services by growing and planting close to 6.5 million trees to date,” said Atlanta McIlwraith, Timberland’s senior manager of community engagement. “The next chapter in this story follows on from a feasibility study which determined that it makes sense to reintroduce cotton to Haiti, and Timberland now aims to evolve its role from being a sponsor to becoming a customer for organic cotton grown by SFA members.”
Building on its original agroforestry model linking agriculture and tree planting, the SFA is scaling up by adding a network of farm cooperatives that will be part of a new supply chain that will exclusively serve smallholder farmers and connect them to both local and global markets. Smallholders will have access to services including exporting, marketing, financing, processing, organic certification, agricultural research, data management and other forms of support normally available only to industrial-scale farmers.