Nature Needs More Social Innovation Heroes Like Timberland

It has been three years since the destructive earthquake struck the island of Haiti.  During this time, Timberland’s social innovation efforts have helped plant 2.2 million trees in the rural area surrounding Gonaives, providing food, fuel and shelter. Timberland has teamed up with the Small Farmers Alliance, a local not-for-profit and non-government organisation (NGO), in a partnership that highlights Timberland’s commitment to Earthkeeping – the philosophy that guides this company in everything it does, which is simple, straightforward, common sense and doing things that enable it to be good stewards of the earth.

In 2010, Timberland teamed up with representatives from the Smallholder Farmers Alliance to create a self-sustaining agroforestry social innovation model that would help agricultural improvement, restore the local environment and support economic growth for the participating farmers through the development of eight community tree nurseries and agricultural training centres. To meet its ‘tree commitment’ Timberland needs to plant five million trees in a five-year period, so an additional one million trees will be planted this year as well as in 2014 and 2015.

The project will help improve the environmental, economic and social conditions in the Gonaives region. Margaret Morey-Reuner, Timberland’s Senior Manager of Values Marketing, says, “When this program began, our vision was to create a model that could be self-financing within a reasonable amount of time and would generate positive social, environmental and economic impact. The great results achieved so far are a testament to the camaraderie, hard work and independence of these farmers as well as to this private sector, NGO and community stakeholder collaboration.”

The Smallholder Farmers Alliance engaged a group of 2,000 small-scale farmers in the rural area near Gonaives, Haiti, and transformed the group into a for-profit agroforestry cooperative. After just three years of investment, the cooperative continues as a farmer-managed, self-financed operation. This social innovation in “exit strategy aid,” which sets a time limit on external funding, tackles a key challenge faced by corporate organisations when getting involved in sustainability or disaster relief projects on the ground in developing nations.

The farmers volunteer their time to manage the tree nurseries and plant trees in return for agricultural services that result in increased crop yields of between 40 and 50 per cent! Farmers sell their crops individually, but the cooperative supports them. Timberland continues to be the principle sponsor of the Smallholder Farmers Alliance. The 2.5 million trees Timberland has planted so far will help to prevent desertification, increase yields of farm crops, and reduce the effects of droughts and green communities.

Photo Credit: Small Holder Farmers Alliance Website