In Peru, cotton cultivation is linked to its history, culture, economy, and nature. Archaeological evidence dates back to 3,100 BC in Huaca Prieta, north of Lima. Here, cotton textiles show the use of fiber in fabrics and as a way to express the culture’s relationship with nature and society.
Toward the south, the famous Paracas mantles from 700 BC also stand out, thanks to great finesse and complexity. By the time the conquerors arrived, cotton was already widely cultivated. In the republican period, it became one of the traditional export products.
Cultivated Peruvian cotton (Gossypium barbadense) comprises an important diversity of crops: Tangüis, Del Cerro, Áspero, Pima, and Arriñonado; the latter is used selectively from plants that grow spontaneously. In Peru, there’s a wild cotton species called milkweed (Gossypium raimondii), which is unique in the world.
The greatest diversity of Peruvian cotton is found in the native plants—Áspero and Arriñonado. This is due to the evident variety of colors, length, and texture of the fiber they have, and their wide adaptation to the natural regions of Peru: Chala, Yunga, Rupa Rupa, and Omagua. This diversity, together with its deep roots in the history of pre-Hispanic societies, consolidates Peru as the center of origin and domestication of cotton.
Peruvian cotton is recognized worldwide for the quality of its long fiber Tangüis and extra-long fiber Pima cultivars; the latter considered the finest in the world. In 1963, 256,800 hectares were harvested between both cultivars; however, by 2017, harvests had decreased to only 6% of that amount.
Multiple factors, including low investment in technology and the increased use of synthetic fiber, which is cheaper, caused the decline. This situation has been affecting the economy of producers in the last 60 years. However, the traits that characterize the native cotton also show the great potential that Peru still has when it comes to this crop.
There’s consensus among national specialists that the past success of Peruvian cotton cultivation was due to the quality of fibers used. Brown and lilac cotton colors, with different shades, constitute the potential to meet the worldwide demand for fibers of natural colors that are growing every day. Through Law No. 29224, this variety of colors was revalued by annulling the 1940 rule that prohibited the cultivation of the native cotton, which contains this range of colors and shades.
❖ Currently, no less than 8,400 families cultivate cotton, whose production generates around 67.4 thousand jobs per season and provides the textile and clothing industry. In turn, this employs 130,000 people directly and 240,000 indirectly.
❖ The quality of Peruvian cotton, recognized worldwide, is part of the added value, a quality on which the textile industry has relied to serve the world market that demands high-end garments.
❖ Since the beginning of this century, Peru went from exporting fiber cotton to exporting garments.
Pima cotton (Gossypium barbadense) is native to Peru. Thanks to the excellent natural conditions of the cultivated fields located in the north of the country, and the hand-harvested system that doesn’t damage the fiber, Pima has become the best cotton in the world.
This fiber has extraordinary characteristics of length, fineness, and softness, which makes the production of uniform and resistant yarns possible to manufacture textile garments for the most demanding markets in the world.
At Salkantay Trekking, we use Pima cotton for our employees’ uniforms and the t-shirts we gift our trekkers. We consider using this high-quality product as the best option for us and contribute to the national cotton production.