Smallholder Farmers Have Reason to Smile in Haiti

Sometimes a smile can convey more than all the technical reports and excel forecast sheets combined. That was certainly the case last week at a cotton field trial site in Haiti as smallholder farmer Nerlande Dautarn showed off what she and her fellow farmers had just harvested. “This is a great day for Haiti,” she beamed, adding “my parents and my grandparents grew cotton not far from here. Now I can tell my children cotton is back after a long time away.”
Haitian smallholder Nerlande Dautarn holds a basket of cotton she and other farmers harvested at the Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) cotton field trial site near Gonaives, Haiti. Photo credit: Thomas Noreille / SFA.
It has been over 30 years since cotton was grown commercially in Haiti, having once been the country’s fourth largest agricultural export. This field trial of 15 different varieties marks the crop’s official return, but this time it is not just a crop. Now cotton is the catalyst for a new approach to working with smallholder farmers that puts them at the forefront in combatting climate change, improving food security and advancing women’s empowerment.
This new approach is based on a tree currency model being pioneered by the Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) in Haiti. Smallholders grow, transplant and look after trees as a way to earn credits that can be exchanged for high quality crop seed, farm tools and training in organic agriculture. Grain and vegetable crop yields go up an average of 40%, while household income at least doubles for most. Women farmers participate on an equal footing with men, as well as having exclusive access to low interest microcredit loans.
The SFA is reintroducing cotton to Haiti using tree currency. Starting this summer, smallholders will plant trees in order to earn the cotton seed, farm tools and specialized agricultural training to grow it. Never planting more than half their farms in cotton (and rotating cotton to the other half from one season to the next), smallholders will receive seed and support for the food crop half of their land as well. Tree currency will also earn them access to the export market for Haitian organic cotton being developed in partnership with global outdoor brand Timberland, along with Patagonia and Vans.
Carmel André Beliard, Minister of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development; Hugh Locke, President of SFA; Pierre Marie Du Mény, Minister of Commerce and Industry; Timote Georges; Executive Director of SFA.

The tree currency model has already resulted in the planting of over 6.5 million trees since the SFA launched in 2010 with the corporate support of Timberland. Now that Timberland is switching from being a sponsor to becoming a client for organic cotton (subject to quality and price) and enlisting other companies to help build an export market, the SFA estimates that around 25 million more trees will be planted over the next 5 years.

The same week that Nerlande and her colleagues were harvesting cotton at the trial site, the SFA received an endorsement for its cotton initiative from Carmel André Beliard, Minister of Agriculture, Natural

Timote Georges; Pierre Simon Georges, Minister of Environment; Hugh Locke.

Resources and Rural Development, and Pierre Marie Du Mény, Minister of Commerce and Industry, at a meeting convened by Haiti’s President, Jovenel Moïse. At a separate meeting earlier the same day, Pierre Simon Georges, Minister of the Environment, expressed his support for the SFA’s tree currency approach.


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