In a move that the company hopes will create a new cotton supply chain, outdoor clothing company Timberland is working with the Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) on an effort to reintroduce cotton as a crop in Haiti, the company announced Tuesday. The company, along with SFA and Haiti’s Minister of Commerce and Industry, ceremoniously planted the first cotton seed to mark the start of the experiment. If the five-year initiative is successful, Timberland has committed to purchasing up to a third of the Haitian farmers’ annual global cotton supply (subject to price, quality and volume), the company says. Cotton, once the country’s fourth largest agricultural export, collapsed as a Haitian industry nearly 30 years ago due to a combination of politics and policies, Timberland says.
First, Is It Feasible?
Timberland and SFA’s cotton program was developed following a successful agroforestry model in Haiti that the two organizations had been working on in recent years. The program had Haitian farmers voluntarily tending a network of nurseries that produced up to a million trees each year. In return, farmers received training, crop seeds, seedlings and tools to help increase their own crop yields.
With the success of that program, Timberland and the SFA engaged in a feasibility study to gage the potential of cotton’s return to Haiti. The groups studied ideal growing conditions, farmer interest and the availability of agricultural best practices gleaned from smallholder farmers in Africa and Asia. The study recommended that cotton be reintroduced – along with a comprehensive support system and a range of services that were not in place when cotton previously failed. By positioning cotton as a rotational crop in mixed farms that include vegetables, grain and livestock, the resulting agricultural benefits will extend far beyond a single crop, the study suggested.
Next summer, the SFA will introduce cotton varieties that adapt best to local conditions and organic cultivation, and result in the highest quality cotton for cultivation in volume by smallholder farmers.
With the reintroduction of cotton as an “anchor crop” in Haiti, Timberland says it also hopes to boost the economy and contribute to environmental restoration.
Wrangler Wants Sustainable Cotton, Too
In a related move – one which is also expected to help increase the supply of sustainable cotton – clothing manufacturer Wrangler recently joined a group called Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. Working with industry and academic partners, Wrangler is focusing on cotton-growing practices that will improve profitability for growers while reducing environmental impacts. Wrangler is also engaged in a pilot project for sustainable US cotton. The project involves a family of seventh-generation farmers from Alabama who will work with Wrangler and others to improve cotton yield, irrigation, energy inputs, greenhouse gas emissions and soil conservation. Forty thousand pounds of the family’s cotton will be used to make a special collection of Wrangler denim jeans that will be sold in 2018.