Haitian Cotton is a Farming Revolution in the Making

In 1954 a young man stood in a field of cotton that was about to revolutionize Haitian agriculture. His name was Rémillot Léveillé. The location was a trial site near Gonaives that he had helped to set up to test varieties of cotton seed imported from Brazil. These annual varieties had higher yields and were less stress on the environment than the traditional perennial type of cotton that had been grown for over a century throughout the country. Within a few years, 67% of Haiti’s cotton was derived from these two Brazilian varieties and the crop represented the nation’s fourth largest agricultural export.
Rémillot Léveillé (third from right) with smallholder farmers harvesting the first commercially-grown cotton in Haiti in 30 years.
Last week Rémillot Léveillé, now 88, was once again standing in a field of cotton that is about to revolutionize Haitian agriculture. This time the trial site includes 15 varieties of seed–annual types from Brazil, India and the U.S., along with one perennial variety still found in gardens in Haiti–and represents the reintroduction of commercially-grown cotton after a 30-year absence from the country. This initiative is being led by the Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) with the support of global outdoor lifestyle brand Timberland, the Vans shoe company and the Haitian Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
SFA cotton field trials near Gonaives, Haiti.

“Cotton was once a key part of the economy of Haiti,” said Mr. Léveillé, “and bringing it back represents hope for the future, particularly because cotton has the ability to adapt very well to our dry seasons.”

Mr. Léveillé, who is widely recognized as the “father of cotton in Haiti,” was one of the authors of a Timberland-sponsored and exhaustive feasibility study that set the stage for re-starting cotton. He was joined in this effort by the late Gérard Nozine, himself a noted Haitian authority in this field, and principle author Chris Kaput, a leading expert in sustainable development.
In addition to recommending that cotton return to Haiti, the study also gives a detailed explanation (see page 53) as to why cotton disappeared 30 years ago.
It is worth noting that the current trial site was planted in the first half of August and cultivated using organic principles, with all varieties being open pollinated and non-GMO. The first variety harvested last week during Mr. Léveillé’s visit was an early-maturing type from Texas, and others will ripen and be harvested up to the first week of February. Most varieties average around 3 feet tall, while some reach up to 7 feet. All varieties are being tested in both irrigated and rain-fed conditions under the guidance of the Swiss-based Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL).
SFA cotton field trials near Gonaives, Haiti.
When large scale cultivation of cotton begins next summer under the auspices of the SFA, each participating smallholder farmer will be able to grow a second or third crop (such as beans, peanuts, corn, etc) on the same land once the 4 to 6-month annual cotton is harvested.
The Smallholder Farmers Alliance is pleased to announce that it has recently become the first Haitian organization to become a member of  Textile Exchange, a global nonprofit organization that works closely with all sectors of the textile supply chain to find the best ways to create positive impacts on water, soil, air, animals, and the human population created by the textile industry.
And if you haven’t already, please check out my recent TEDx talk on our work in Haiti.
Hugh Locke

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