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How Timberland Partnered with Smallholder Farmers to Scale Sustainable Development in Haiti

On Wednesday, over an intimate, invite-only lunch at SB ’15 San Diego, Timberland and the Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) screened the trailer for their documentary, KOMBIT: The Cooperative, scheduled for release in October 2015.

KOMBIT means “pulling together” in Haitian Creole. Timberland says this is the perfect description of the partnership among local Haitians, as well as its work with them and SFA to rebuild the island nation’s environmental and economic landscape through small-scale farming.

The audience got a literal taste of the fruit of the farmers’ labor with moringa smoothies, as the cooperative currently focuses on the moringa plant, which is treasured in Haiti because of its resilience and many uses.

“The moringa plant is somewhat of a miracle plant, growing from seed to thirteen feet in a year,” said SFA founder Hugh Locke. “It is rich in protein, and vitamins A, B and C. The oil from the seed can also be used.”

Locke brought the idea of creating the partnership with Timberland to its Director of Strategic Partnerships and Business Development, Margaret Morey-Reuner, having been inspired by the brand’s sustainability commitment. Also, Hugh said to the audience, “their logo is a tree, so this seemed to be make sense.”


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Morey-Reuner, who was also in attendance at the lunchtime screening, discussed immediately embracing the idea but simultaneously insisting to Locke that their project could not only subsist on donations from Timberland, but rather needed to be able to sustain itself – and its local farmers.

Locke, who had spent his entire career in various non-profit positions, expressed that after creating their present agribusiness model with Timberland’s support, he is officially a social business convert, finding extreme value in being able to stimulate economic self-sufficiency for the Haitian farmers within the cooperative.

“One of the goals of this partnership is to systemize the growth of moringa and help Haitians capitalize on its emerging international market for this plant,” said Locke.

Since the program’s launch, the partnership has unofficially expanded, welcoming other organizations active in Haiti, such as the Clinton Foundation, and the Clinton Global Initiative, which opened up a customer base for the cooperative through existing relationships. The farmers have also begun to plant lime.

Locke also noted that the trees are more protected within this program. Haiti is a country accustomed to experiencing disasters, an example of which has been rampant deforestation as a result of lack of energy resources. Despite its prime location within the tropics, the country has only an estimated 1.5 percent tree cover remaining. Locke said that approximately 82 percent of the island relies on wooded charcoal, and given that 80 percent of the inhabitants also live below the poverty line, trees have suffered due to citizens’ survival needs.

However, the cooperative’s model has proven to at least 3,200 farmers that protecting the trees has more value than killing them for temporary use.

“If the trees are used for fuel at all,” says Locke, “the farmers will cut now only their branches, and no longer kill the entire tree.”

Five years and $1 million later, Timberland and SFA say they have succeeded at creating a thriving agribusiness model in Haiti, and continue to be ambitious with their goals. Their present objective is to grow at least 2 million trees, while ensuring that their farmers retain market shares. Locke also emphasized that the cooperative aims to be true to all aspects of sustainability, ensuring that seeds are equally distributed amongst farmers. Its cooperative board also consists of an equivalent number of men and women, with each vote weighted alike.

Timberland hopes to replicate this model in other areas of its footwear and apparel supply chains, and is investigating opportunities to scale cotton and rubber plantation farming in other developing countries.


Candice D McLeod is an Energy Associate in facilities management at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), working on energy efficiency and whole systems sustainability, writing on the intersection of business & sustainability for Sustainable Brands. She received a Masters… [Read more about Candice McLeod]


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