The Smallholder Farmers Alliance will undertake a study to consider the feasibility of reintroducing cotton cultivation to Puerto Rico following a more than 40-year absence. This study will provide a brief history of agriculture in the region, including the history of cotton growing, its previous role in the economy and the reasons it disappeared. The current situation of agriculture in Puerto Rico will be assessed, with a particular focus on small scale family farming. The study will conclude with recommendations regarding the reintroduction of cotton as an organic crop for smallholder farmers including the support structure required, possible domestic and international markets, potential scale of operation, how to combine with increased food production, needs for first and second stage processing, and potential international partnerships to enhance research, improve farm management and secure external export markets.
The Puerto Rico Cotton Study will be undertaken in partnership with Visit Rico, a local non-profit that works to support smallholder organic farmers. The organization will provide research support and will be the main implementer of any proposed recommendations for the reintroduction of cotton. The Textile Exchange organization will also help with research for the study.
The Smallholder Farmers Alliance undertook a similar feasibility study in Haiti prior to reintroducing cotton cultivation in that country following a 30-year absence. The commitment partners hope that this new study will lead, as it did in Haiti, to field trials of different varieties of organic cotton in the summer that can translate to commercial cultivation starting next year.
April: Site visit of two representatives of the Smallholder Farmers Alliance to Puerto Rico.
May 15: Outline of the study is completed.
July 1: First rough draft circulated for edits, corrections and improvements.
July 15: Final draft completed and layout and design of final study begun.
July 31: Final Puerto Rico Cotton Study is published in digital form.
The agricultural sector in Puerto Rico was already severely depressed and facing hardships due to low yields and limited access to markets for crops when Hurricane Maria devastated farms throughout the region. Hardest hit were small scale family farmers who often have little to no support from agricultural extension services and mostly operate without crop insurance.
In the event that the study recommends the reintroduction of cotton to Puerto Rico, there are three categories of partnership that will be sought for implementation follow-up. First, organizations that can provide technical training and support to smallholders growing cotton. Second, companies that will consider purchasing the resulting cotton, either domestically or for export. Third, partners that will consider providing financial support for the implementation recommendations that will be outlined in the study, including field trials starting in August to test different varieties of organic cotton to determine those best suited to local conditions.
The study will provide interested stakeholders with recommendations on the reintroduction of cotton as an organic crop for smallholder farmers. This information will be particularly relevant for organizations that provide technical training to smallholders, companies interested in purchasing cotton, and other investors.