Planting Seeds for Haiti's Future: Timberland & Smallholder Farmers Alliance
One key area of focus for Timberland over the past 10+ years has been tree planting, leading the brand to make a 2010 commitment to plant five million trees in five years in Haiti. Timberland has a strong connection to the island of Hispañola, which Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic, where the brand has had a factory (and its largest employee population) since 1981.
One of the most severely deforested countries in the world, Haiti has two percent tree cover remaining and is so resource-constrained that farmers struggle to make a living.
Timberland recognized that the tree planting efforts would only be effective if they led to a sustainable, long-term solution to deforestation. To tackle this challenge, the brand partnered with the nonprofit Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) to devise a program that would empower Haitians to play an active role in spurring economic development, improving agricultural practices and supporting reforestation. Early on, smallholder farmers were identified as the logical group to enlist for planting trees in the rural areas where they were most needed.
Local farmers were invited to volunteer in a network of tree nurseries that would produce one million trees annually. In exchange for their time working in the nurseries, the farmers receive valuable seeds, tools and training, as well as tree seedlings, to increase the productivity of their own farmlands.
Farmers engaged in the program experienced a 40% average increase in crop yield and a 50% average increase in income. Farmers then return a share of their profits along with the same amount of seeds they originally received to ensure the program is self-sustaining and can continue its vital work without being dependent upon external donors.
Through the development of a sustainable agroforestry model in Haiti, Timberland quickly saw the potential to scale the program to other industries and commodities — such as cotton — in addition to making a lasting impact in Haiti. Eventually, Timberland wanted to evolve from being a supporter of the SFA to become a customer.
With Timberland’s support, the SFA has now developed a five-year plan for the reintroduction of cotton to Haiti, with year one focused on field trials to generate samples of several varieties, which Timberland will begin to test for potential future use in its products.
As a result of this agroforestry model and communications campaign, Timberland has been widely recognized by the media, nonprofits and other leading corporations as a leader in developing creative and strategic cross-industry collaborations in the interest of social, environmental and economic progress. Together with the SFA, Timberland is engaging other stakeholders, within its parent company VF Corporation and the broader industry, to invite them to get involved – and companies are already asking for a seat at the table.