I’ve done tons of research on cotton and learning how this thirsty plant drains rivers, creates deserts, is fed dangerous toxic fertilizers to grow in damaged or unsuitable soils and then is often hand-sprayed by women and children with dangerous pesticides. The cotton industry has been a magnet for exploitation for hundreds of years from the days when African slaves were taken to America, right up until today where kids are taken out of schools and forced to work in cotton fields.
However, travelling through Peru I was surprised to see small picturesque mixed food and cotton farms along the River Nazca, growing cotton in the same way they have for 1000 years.
The Nazca culture is best known for the giant and mysterious etchings drawn in the desert that are visible from the air. But they were also master engineers and farmers, creating aqueducts to irrigate their plots from underground water sources when the river dried up. Cotton drove development and the economies of pre-Colombian and pre-Inka Peru, as the desert Nazcas made their cotton into clothes and nets which were traded with fishing villages (the Norte Chico or Moche peoples) along the coast in return for fish.
The native Peruvian cotton has four natural colours (white, yellow, brown and black) which the Nazcas wove into intricate tapestry and clothing. Pieces of these original cloth are still being found in tombs where they buried their mummified died (well dressed and ready for the next life).
Although there are bigger specialized cotton farms in Peru and the gin process is mechanized in large plants, for the most part the Peruvian cotton industry is relatively slow and idyllic.
Some cotton from Peru is organic and some is not, but even the non-organic cotton measures well from an ethical point of view.
I hope that cotton continues in Peru and a limited number of other areas, and that it is wiped off the earth from places where it is killing people and the planet for a cheap t-shirt.