NATIVE COTTON CULTIVATION AS AN ALTERNATIVE
TO COCA PRODUCTION IN PERU
Since 1986, the Native Cotton Project of Peru, with support of international organizations, private foundations and Peruvian government agencies, has pioneered the documentation and recovery of native cotton cultivation in the high jungle of northern Peru. This region includes parts of Amazonas and San Martin departments--center for the illicit cultivation of the coca plant used for synthesizing cocaine.
Both the coca and cotton plants are native to the region. While coca leaf cultivation has soared to cover over 250,000 hectares in recent years, native cotton has fallen to as low as a few hundred hectares per season. Because the fiber is relatively coarse, and growing areas difficult to concentrate, native cotton is used only in artisan crafts. But native cotton occurs in a variety of unique natural colors, including white, beige, brown, chocolate and mauve, cultivated by Indian farmers, using ancient technologies and totally organic methods.
The Native Cotton Project seeks to establish a new and sustainable market for this fiber by transforming it into yarn, fabric and garments through contract service centers in the region, in Arequipa and Lima. Currently T-shirts and polos, leisure wear, sweaters, baby and infant wear are exported by Peru Naturtex Partners, the commercial organization encharged with manufacture and export to Europe, USA and Japan. Naturtex is the owner of the prestigious Pakucho trademark.
Since 1993, the Project has maintained contracts in the jungle with over one hundred individual family units, which are inspected annually by SKAL, the Dutch certifying body for organic textile fiber production. Indians are given certified seed at the beginning of each agricultural season; logistical and technical support is provided when needed, and a fair price is paid for the cotton fiber at harvest.
Although difficult to measure, the conversion of fields from coca leaf to native cotton has surely occurred on dozens, if not hundreds of units, as the demand for cotton in general in this area is on the increase since 1994 by Naturtex and several commercial interests exporting the raw fiber for industrial applications.
Additional support is needed to explore and develop new markets for native cotton products, to diversify the kinds of articles, designs and uses of these products, and to communicate the message of drug free cotton to the consumer. Funds are required to increase logistical and technical support to the primary Indian communities, where most basic services are non existent or deficient.
With timely marketing and technical assistance, the expansion of the current production base is likely to occur quickly and in a sustained manner, providing an attractive alternative to environmentally hazardous coca cultivation. Native cotton production is entirely traditional and organic, without chemicals or the introduction of new technologies, risky or maverick procedures of any kind. Drawing one the cultural heritage of great Andean traditions, Naturtex is honored to highlight the revival of fine organic and naturally pigmented cotton textiles of Peru.