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Peru is going native—native cotton, that is. The country’s nascent Center for Innovation and Rural Development is proposing a “ruta del algodón nativo de colores”—or “road of native cotton colors”—designed to preserve regional biodiversity, promote Peruvian history, and boost tourism. Five years in the planning, the route will include some of the few remaining strongholds of the crop, which has been supplanted in recent decades by higher-yield hybrid strains and government-subsidized U.S. cotton.
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The project, which is expected to launch in July at a cost of $3.27 million, will include Ica, Lima, Ancash, La Libertad, Lambayeque, and the Amazon. Already, 370 acres of land in six Lambayeque districts have been earmarked for raising native cotton, with planting to begin sometime in mid-2012.
Native cotton comes in myriad color-grown hues, including russet, brown, copper, and green.
Taxonomically known as Gossypium barbadense but simply dubbed “country cotton” by local farmers, Peruvian cotton is cultivated the same way as it has for millennia: without chemical fertilizers or synthetic pesticides. Far from row upon row of budding white bolls, however, indigenous varieties come in myriad color-grown hues, including russet, brown, copper, and green.
Following the Industrial Revolution, colored cotton fell out of favor as a result of its lower yields and shorter, machine-incompatible fibers. Coupled with its inability to compete with U.S. cotton and the promotion of commercially superior, all-white strains by local legislation, Peruvian cotton now teeters on the brink of extinction.
But naturally colored cotton might be in for a revival. Following a surge of interest by brands such as Patagonia, Eileen Fisher, and Esprit, along with new technologies to make the fiber longer and stronger, Peru’s Native Cotton Project has observed dozens, if not hundreds, of fields shift from growing coca for the cocaine trade to native cotton.
The proposed cotton route is likely to attract tourists who are interested in learning more about Peru’s storied agricultural history, as well as overseas designers who wish to connect directly with their producers.
One corner of the globe, at least, is about to get a whole lot more picturesque.