Timberland Celebrates Economic & Environmental Progress in Haiti from Commitment to Plant Five Million Trees

by LP Green, II

Global outdoor lifestyle brand Timberland today released “KOMBIT: The Cooperative,” a documentary film chronicling a five-year project to reforest Haiti in partnership with the Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA), a Haitian nonprofit farmer cooperative dedicated to feeding and reforesting the country. In 2010, Timberland made a Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) commitment to plant five million trees in five years in Haiti, aimed at reversing the country’s dangerous decline in tree populations. That commitment resulted in the development of a large-scale, self-sustaining agroforestry program owned and operated by smallholder farmers, creating lasting value well beyond the trees themselves. The film documents the complete story of Timberland’s journey and is available at KombitFilm.com.

Rebuilding Against the Odds
Haiti’s biological diversity is one of the richest in the Caribbean and its mountainous topography includes lush forests, beaches and arid deserts. Today, with less than two percent tree cover, the country is threatened by severe deforestation and desertification caused by natural disasters, over-use of land by farmers and livestock and harvesting of trees to sell as charcoal. The film, produced by Found Object, follows Timberland’s quest to plant five million trees in five years while simultaneously building a sustainable, self-funded agroforestry enterprise in an effort to support the country’s reforestation efforts and its smallholder farming population. What began as part of the brand’s global commitment to tree planting quickly progressed into the empowerment and growth of a community of Haitian smallholder farmers.

“We saw a huge opportunity to match our tree planting mission with Haiti’s reforestation needs, but any solution we wanted to support couldn’t be contingent on a donor-based model anchored by perpetual funding,” said Margaret Morey-Reuner, director, strategic partnerships, business development and values marketing, Timberland. “So we challenged our partners, who eventually founded the SFA, to create something that would have a lasting positive impact for the people of Haiti, beyond just writing checks. They successfully worked with us to create a sustainable, long-term solution that would actually make a difference.”

Approximately one-third of the world’s population are small-scale or “smallholder” farmers, including 2.1 million in Haiti alone. The majority of these farmers lack proper training and live in poverty, with many forced to have their children work instead of attend school. Timberland and SFA worked together to create a model whereby farmers voluntarily tend to a network of nurseries that produce one million trees annually. In return, farmers receive training, crop seeds, seedlings and tools that help restore tree cover and increase the farmers’ own crop yields – a mutually beneficial and sustainable cycle.

“With Timberland’s impetus we found a way to provide small-scale farmers in Haiti with the three things they needed most: tools, better quality seed and specialized training to improve their agricultural practices,” said Hugh Locke, co-founder of the Smallholder Farmers Alliance. “Doing so resulted in much more than the planting of five million trees – it has created real environmental, social and economic impact for farmers, prompting the creation of new farmer-run small businesses, including agricultural supply stores, marketing operations and now, what will become an export model for the moringa plant – a new ‘superfood.’”

Making Change Through Social Entrepreneurism
To date, this self-sustaining business model has helped 3,200 farmers increase productivity on their farmlands an average of 50 percent, resulting in increased household income of 50 percent, on average. The program has also resulted in increased access to education and healthcare, including an estimated 3,400 additional children of SFA members placed in school. Most recently, the development of an export model for “superfood” moringa is underway with the U.S. brand Kuli Kuli, which will be sold in Whole Foods starting in January of 2016.

“‘Kombit’ is a Haitian Creole word for ‘a community working together toward a common goal,’” said Timote Georges, co-founder of the Smallholder Farmers Alliance. “This is exactly what happened over the last five years in Haiti as a result of Timberland’s vision. The farmers have found their voice, they have renewed their passion – they feel completely empowered and are eager to continue building the cooperative. I personally can’t wait to see what we do next.”

Documenting the Journey
Timberland worked with Found Object to document the project, and the full story is now being told through film to inspire others to explore innovative thinking and partnerships around the world.

“Found Object was already aware of Timberland’s dedication to the environment from work we had started with them in 2009 around climate change,” said Gabriel London, partner and creative director of Found Object. “It was clear to us that there would be an incredible story to tell about rebuilding Haiti after witnessing Timberland’s commitment to the people and the country during an earthquake relief trip we attended with them. Five years later, this film tells a powerful story about planting seeds: of trees, of hope and of new models of sustainability.”

To learn more visit KombitFilm.com, where you can view “KOMBIT: The Cooperative” for $2.99 (48 hour rental) or $9.99 (purchase and download). All net proceeds from the 45-minute film will benefit SFA via Impact Farming, which supports the SFA in Haiti and helps to provide education and agricultural training to empower farmers in developing countries.

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