By Andrew Burger / Source: TriplePundit

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An innovative, five-year community agroforesty development project developed and carried out by Timberland, the Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) and Haitian farmers has proven successful. So successful, in fact, that Timberland is considering replicating it in other countries where farmers produce cotton and rubber – the raw materials the company uses to manufacture clothing, footwear and, more recently, tires.

Partnering with experienced local NGOs who know ‘the lay of the land,’ leading proponents of corporate social and environmental sustainability such as Timberland are helping turn the tide and break the cycle of poverty and environmental resource degradation in Haiti. Through the SFA’s community agroforestry development model, Timberland is helping boost agricultural productivity, small farmers’ incomes, community well-being, and ecosystems health and sustainability. What’s more, it is encouraging NGOs and local communities to come up with sustainable, market-based development solutions.

Moving away from conventional “cash for work” aid programs

The community agroforestry development model SFA and Timberland put into effect in the rural Haitian community of Gonaïves has boosted agricultural output by some 50 percent, lowered input costs and significantly raised net incomes for farmers and their families, SFA co-founder Hugh Locke highlighted.

Since launching the program in 2010, agroforestry co-op membership has shot up over ten-fold to include some 1,000 farm households spread across two co-ops and two satellite sites. Trees are now being planted at a rate of over 1 million per year.

A network of tree nurseries serves as the nucleus of the program, with SFA working with around 24 or so tree species as well as a host of crops important to local farmers, such as sorghum and beans. Timberland and SFA expect to surpass their goal of facilitating the planting of over 5 million trees – self-financed and managed by small-scale farmers – over five years.

Timberland summarized the program’s main accomplishments as follows:

“The model has helped 2,000 farmers increase the productivity on their farmlands by more than 50 percent, resulting in increased income and access to education and healthcare for their families and more exports for the country. Timberland will also exceed its goal of planting five million trees in five years, with reforestation efforts protecting the land for years to come.”
Measuring outcomes as opposed to output

Discussing the benefits being realized by Haiti’s small-scale farmers, Locke said he prefers to view them from the perspective of outcomes as opposed to output. Feedback from farmers commonly includes them saying that “they are now able to put all their kids through school,” he told 3p.

Small-scale farmers participating in the program, for example, are showing initiative and putting some of the free time they have gained to good use. They have taken it upon themselves to revive “kombit” – a traditional, informal organizational structure associated with communal farming activities, Locke pointed out.

Based on farmers’ requests, SFA also helped establish Kay Plante, a microfinance-driven “farmers’ house.” The community agricultural co-op shop – the first of its kind in Haiti – offers farmers the opportunity to buy their own supplies and serves as a community resource for sharing information. The working language, moreover, is Creole.

“A smallholder farmer can walk in the door and be addressed in Creole,” Locke highlighted. “Any kind of business operation in Haiti is run entirely in French even though the bulk of the population doesn’t speak in French.”
As most small-scale farmers don’t know how to read or write, SFA also worked with co-op participants to launch an adult literacy program.

In addition, SFA and Timberland took explicit steps to include women and foster greater gender equality among Haiti’s small-scale farmers. The program allows both husband and wife volunteer-farming family members to participate in the program, Locke explained.

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