Vetiver Together: Improving the Lives of Vetiver Farming Communities in Haiti

Jul 1, 2017 5:45 PM ET

Smoky and sweet, calming and grounding, vetiver is used in a variety of fine and consumer fragrances as well as in teas and other foodstuffs. As one of the most prominent and sought after crops in Haiti, it is also a staple to the Haitian economy and vital to smallholder farmers, their families and their surrounding communities.

Vetiver Together Partnership

IFF and Unilever, in collaboration with Oxfam Great Britain, Heifer International and the Ford Foundation, launched Vetiver Together on July 25th, 2016, a two-year pilot program aimed to improve the livelihoods of the vetiver farming communities, strengthen IFF’s vetiver supply chain and increase environmental conservation.

“IFF relies on small farming communities for many natural products. These farmers, their families, and communities are an important part of our supply chain,” said Andreas Fibig, our Chairman and CEO. “Sustainability is a key enabler of our Vision2020 business strategy, and this partnership is the embodiment of one of our key sustainability strategies, Sensational People, in which we engage our employees and stakeholders to make a positive difference in the world.”

In the southern regions of Haiti, farmers are almost exclusively dependent on vetiver for their income. A crop that is only harvested once every 12 or 18 months, the timing puts enormous economic pressure on the farmers – often leading them to harvest the roots before full maturity. Even though this practice may address an immediate financial need, ultimately it leads to low prices and poor oil yields.

To enhance the livelihoods of the vetiver farmers, the Vetiver Together initiative addresses three main areas of need, which are food security, women’s empowerment and reforestation. Addressing these needs will avoid premature harvest, and thereby increase the quality of life of the local farmers. By partnering with Heifer International, IFF is working with smallholder farmers within our vetiver supply chain to implement the proven methodology and the unique approach of the Placement of the Animals ceremony.

The Placement of the Animals Ceremony

In September of 2016, farmers in Haiti achieved the first milestone with Vetiver Together. Representatives from IFF, Unilever, Heifer International and UniKode joined the local community for the first ‘Placement of the Animals’ ceremony.  Goats, chickens, turkeys and seeds were given to 75 vetiver farmers and their families for breeding to help supplement incomes and to increase food security during lean times as the vetiver root reaches maturity. Beyond tangible resources, the Haitian farmers received invaluable training in crop and livestock production (for food and sale), soil conservation and improved nutrition. As part of Heifer’s practice of Passing of the Gift (POG), scheduled for later this year, the first female offspring of each livestock, along with training and seeds, will be passed on to another family in need, doubling the impact of the original placement. This cycle will continue with the POG recipients, who then pass their offspring on to others in the community.

"I am more than happy and thank Heifer, Unilever and IFF very much for such amazing gifts,” said Cidieula François, whose family received livestock and seeds after she completed the training sessions. “I promise to take care of the animals to the best of my ability. This is the very first time vetiver farmers are being thought of (by outside groups) - and not only for what we can offer."

More than a ceremony, this event on September 7th was a celebration. Creole music blasted, people were excited to get the animals and seeds, yes – but it was more than that.  The joy and pride on the faces of all who participated was a sign of good things to come. It even rained - definitely good luck for a planting community! However, after the rain came, so did an unforeseeable natural disaster: Hurricane Matthew.

Hurricane Matthew and Relief Efforts

In October of 2016, one month after the initial Placement of the Animals ceremony, the worst storm to hit Haitian soil in over half a century touched down and destroyed the homes of thousands. The strong category 4 winds of Hurricane Matthew knocked over fruit-bearing coconut and mango trees, significantly harming Haitian food supply and revenue. However, the resilient vetiver crop remained virtually unharmed because the deep roots held firm underground.

Although the vetiver harvest remained intact, Vetiver Together partners had to act quickly in order to provide the basics of life to the local farmers. Along with contributing monetary donations, additional efforts included UL donating thousands of sanitary kits, and IFF contributing to a generator to power a water plant, providing access to potable water to these communities.

Despite the losses caused by the hurricane, 62% of the donated livestock survived, a rate higher than surrounding areas not covered by the project. According to Heifer, this is likely due to improved animal shelters, trainings, and interventions by community vet agents. Although the hurricane provided a challenge, the Vetiver Together team pushed on and continued to expand the program.

 In April of 2017, an additional 75 families received animals, as well as seeds, during the second Placement of the Animals ceremony. Amidst the ruins of the storm, animals were given to new families in order to provide resources to a greater percentage of the community- a ray of light in a time of darkness. Additionally, the Passing of the Gift ceremony is scheduled for later this year, and we hope that this cyclical effort will one day secure the livelihood of all the Haitian farmers in the region. Although the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew is immeasurable, Vetiver Together strives to provide a hopeful future for vetiver cultivation and farmers alike.

Together, We Create the Future

“Vetiver Together is truly a long-term commitment and social investment partnership,” said Kip Cleverley, vice president, Global Sustainability at IFF. “We promised to help this community and even though Hurricane Matthew took a toll on the Haitian farming community, we continue to aim our efforts toward improving the livelihood of the Haitian people. Now, more than ever, we can make a positive difference in the world, starting with this community."

Additionally, Heifer International has pledged to contribute more funds to the project, which now has been extended to the end of 2018. The nature of the Passing of the Gift ceremony means that Vetiver Together is much more than a temporary solution. Families will continue to receive livestock and seeds as the resources are passed on to other members of the community, while farmers will no longer rely solely on the vetiver harvest for their income.

Because of the contributions made by the Vetiver Together project, vetiver crops are scheduled to harvest at the correct time in June or July, depending on the weather. IFF and all other organizations involved remain committed to the fight to restore the Haitian land and the lives of its people.

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