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Timberland Looks to New Source for Cotton Supply Chain

In a move that it 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.

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 result of a lack of financial services and technical support for smallholder farmers, large-scale deforestation in Haiti, and a series of economic hardships the country has faced, Timberland told Environmental Leader.

The Timberland/SFA model positions cotton as a rotational crop in mixed farms that include vegetables, grain and livestock, so the agricultural benefits extend beyond a single crop. They are also focused on provided training and support for smallholder farmers as they reintroduce cotton into their rotation. It was important to provide farmers with a sustainable, long-term solution, so cotton doesn’t disappear again, the company told us.

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, the resulting agricultural benefits will help farmers beyond just the introduction of a new crop, the study suggested.

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