Timberland Launches Film About Tree Planting Project in Haiti

(3BL Media/Just Means) - Haiti and the Dominican Republic are on the same island. When you fly over them, it is possible to see a clear natural divide between the two countries: the Haitian side is brown due to deforestation and the Dominican part is green with tree coverage. The visual contrast is a stark reminder of the environmental challenges Haiti faces as one of the regions of the world that are most susceptible to climate change. Several initiatives have received money to restore the country’s natural assets, but with no significant results. But a new project with a new approach, now chronicled in a film, is changing that.

“Kombit” is a Haitian Creole word that describes a community working together toward a common goal. “This is exactly what happened over the last five years in Haiti. 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,” says Timote Georges, co-founder of the Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA), a nonprofit farmer cooperative dedicated to feeding and reforesting the country.

Kombit is also the name of a project carried out by SFA in cooperation with outdoors gear giant Timberland. The project is revolutionizing the approach to reforestation in Haiti by including smallholder farmers in the process, an element that had been missing in previous projects. Now Kombit has become the subject of a documentary called KOMBIT: The Cooperative.

The film chronicles the implementation of an initiative to plant five million trees in Haiti. Besides planting trees, it also built a sustainable agroforestry enterprise as part of a wider drive to reforest the country and support small-time farmers. It premiered at SXSW Eco at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin on October 5.

The story starts in 2010, when Timberland made a Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) commitment to plant the trees over a period of five years to reverse the country’s dangerous decline in tree populations. Haiti’s biological diversity is one of the richest in the Caribbean and its mountainous topography includes lush forests, beaches and arid deserts. But with less than two percent of tree coverage, the country is threatened by further deforestation and desertification. Among the causes are natural disasters, overuse of land by farmers and harvesting of trees that are sold as coal.

Produced by Found Object, it follows Timberland’s efforts to plant the trees and support farmers at the same time. "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,” says 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.”

There are 2.1 million smallholder farmers in Haiti, and they often lack proper training and live in poverty. To make it worse, their kids often have to help them instead of going to school. This is the cycle that Timberland’s Kombit wanted to break. Alongside SFA, it worked 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.

Since its implementation, the project has helped 3,200 farmers to boost productivity on the land by 50 percent, with a corresponding increase in income. This has led to more access to healthcare and education, with 3,400 children of SFA members now going to school.

“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,” says Gabriel London, partner and creative director of Found Object, which made the film.

The film is available for download purchase or rental at KombitFilm.com. All net proceeds will benefit Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) to carry out their work with farmers to eradicate poverty and provide education to their children.

Image credit: Timberland