Posted by Fast Company, BY BEN SCHILLER | February 9, 2018
Haiti hasn’t grown cotton in decades. Its once-abundant industry collapsed in the 1970s due to government corruption, economic mismanagement, and U.S. embargoes. But now, thanks to a project involving thousands of smallholder farmers, apparel brands like Timberland, and a blockchain network, it could be set for a comeback. Within a few years, if all goes to plan, the island will be supplying millions of pounds of organic cotton for shoes, shirts, and other clothing sold in U.S. stores.
The Blockchain Cotton Project in Haiti is one of several around the worldlooking to use a distributed digital ledger for supply chain management. The same technology that tracks transactions of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies can also track commodities and products as they leave fields and move through factories and distribution centers. Blockchains have the potential to boost transparency and lower the cost of authenticating the origin of products, particularly those of an organic and fair trade variety, say supply chain experts.
Smallholder Nerlande Dautarn holds a basket of cotton she and other farmers harvested at the Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) cotton field trial site near Gonaives, Haiti. [Photo: Thomas Noreille / SFA]
“The promise of blockchain is that we can trace the purchase back to the farmer and the field. That not only increases the visibility of our supply chain but also enables us to share more robust stories with our consumers,” says Atlanta McIlwraith, Timberland’s senior manager for community engagement and relations, in an interview.
The blockchain project is led by the nonprofit Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) and isn’t the first that Timberland has been involved with on the island. Starting in 2010, Timberland, the SFA, and the Clinton Global Initiative started planting millions of trees across 19 nurseries, hoping to avert serious deforestation. They encouraged farmers to tend to the trees by offering “tree currency”: seeds, tools, and training that allow farmers to increase their own yields. The project has doubled household incomes, according to the SFA, and is now self-sustaining without corporate sponsorship. The trees produce enough seeds to create recurring seed banks, as well as food, like moringa, a “superfood” which is sold to a company in California called Kuli Kuli.