Cotton is the world's most widely used natural fiber, and growing it sustains livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers, their families, and communities. As well as being water-intensive, it's also one of the most polluting, however. Growing cotton, for example, takes up some 45 percent of total pesticide use in India, one of the world's largest producers.
Changes in seasonal weather patterns and other effects of a warming climate have led public and private industry stakeholders, from multinational agricultural and retail corporations to local farming cooperatives and community organizations, to search for and implement new tools, techniques and methods that can improve yields, processing, and quality while at the same time reducing cotton's negative environmental and socioeconomic impacts.
Cotton was once Haiti's fourth largest agricultural export. Now production is practically nil. That could change given the launch of plans to reintroduce cotton farming and exports from smallholder farms, and do so in a way that benefits Haitian farmers, communities, and society.
Reviving cotton in Haiti
Timberland, the Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA), and Impact Farming on Nov. 11 released a feasibility study, announced "two breakthrough innovations" and plans to revive smallholder cotton farming and export production in Haiti. That includes a proposal to build a new wholesale export operation that will connect Haitian farmers to global markets.
The announcement was made during the third annual Haiti Funders Conference in New York City at a time when Haitians are still trying to recover from the devastating effects wrought by Hurricane Matthew. One of the most powerful tropical storms to impact Caribbean island nations in years, Hurricane Matthew reportedly affected some 1.2 million people as it weaved its way through the region.
Finding effective ways to enable Haitian farmers growing crops for export to connect with buyers overseas is one of the principal recommendations made by Impact Farming, which undertook the study for Timberland.
Based on the study results, SFA and Impact Farming intend to launch a new for-profit export, marketing, and finance company dedicated to exports originating from Haitian smallholder farms. Dubbed the Haiti Impact Alliance (HIA), the public-private partnership aims to build a new more sustainable and equitable agricultural supply chain and wholesale market operation based on smallholder farm social enterprises in Haiti and possibly beyond.
"Smallholder farmers hold the key to achieving food security and combating climate change in Haiti, and we see cotton as central to unleashing their potential," said Hugh Locke, President of the SFA and Impact Farming,
"In addition to resulting in significant numbers of trees being planted, the new Haiti Impact Alliance will provide farmers with first stage processing capacity, improved infrastructure, increased export and marketing opportunities, efficient data management, access to farm financing and specialized agricultural research in cotton and other export crops."
Building on Success
It's not the first time Timberland and SFA have joined forces to create a new social enterprise centered on improving the lot of Haitian smallholder farming communities, mitigating environmental degradation and restoring or reviving ecosystems. An innovative five-year sustainable agroforestry development project they carried out in partnership with smallholder farming communities in northern Haiti has improved production, yields, lives and livelihoods, strengthened communities and reversed the course of severe deforestation.
The project garnered Timberland recognition from the ethical business and investment community. In October, Timberland was awarded the top prize in the ¨Most Effective International Investment¨ category during the Seventh Annual Ethical Corporation Awards, which took place in London. Timberland, SFA, and local farmers tell of their experiences participating in the project in "Kombit: The Cooperative," a documentary film produced by Timberland and SFA that was released in October 2015.
*Image credits: 1) Impact Farming, Timberland; 2) NASA; 3) Smallholder Farmers Alliance, Clinton Global Foundation