A once rich agricultural community, the country of Haiti has faced environmental devastation for decades. As a result, the country had become one of the most severely deforested areas in the world, with only 1.5 percent tree cover remaining. And although many nonprofits and organizations have provided support following disasters, the people of Haiti needed something more long-term. Here, outdoor lifestyle brand Timberland* saw an opportunity to make an impact.
Last week at the Sustainable Brands Conference in San Diego, Timberland screened “KOMBIT: The Cooperative,” a documentary film chronicling a five-year project to reforest Haiti in partnership with the Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA), a Haitian nonprofit farmer cooperative dedicated to reforesting the country. The documentary followed the project from its inception – a Clinton Global Initiative commitment from Timberland to plant five million trees in five years in Haiti, on the island of Hispaniola, where they have had a manufacturing facility for decades. The film, produced by the award-winning filmmakers at Found Object, showed how the project’s partnership with the SFA evolved into the development of a large-scale, self-sustaining agroforestry program owned and operated by smallholder farmers. Farmers volunteer to tend to a network of nurseries producing one million trees annually, and in turn they receive training, seeds, seedlings and tools to restore their own crops yields. So far the initiative has helped over 3,200 farmers increase productivity on their farmlands by an average of 40 percent and has resulted in the development of an export model for lime and the “superfood” moringa born from the trees planted across the country.
The key to the program’s success is that it is more than just a tree planting initiative or a philanthropic effort – the goal is to create a sustainable, long-term solution that empowers Haitians to play an active role in driving economic development, improving agricultural practices and supporting reforestation. “We challenged our partners to create something that would have a lasting positive impact for the people of Haiti, beyond just writing checks,” said Margaret Morey-Reuner, director, strategic partnerships and business development at Timberland. In fact, the program has been so successful, Timberland wants to take the concept on the road, replicating the model in other developing countries. The brand is already exploring scaling materials like cotton with a feasibility study, so it can be used in its footwear and apparel supply chains. In this way, the model can create a new supply chain while also helping rebuild a country in need of a helping hand.