Revival of Cotton Route
The cotton trade was fundamental to the development of global capitalism. It shaped the world empire and superpower of today's world. The cotton-route was the largest and most flourished route of all. Three millenniums of history would showcase the mighty geographical spread of culture and heritage across all the continents. The route was predominately sea-based influence by the monsoons. Tamilagam, comprising of present day Tamilnadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and parts of Karnataka, was rich in ecological wonders.
Coromandel coast was producing the finest quality of cotton and its by-products which made European to find the routes. The Arabs were the experts in the sea navigation which made the cotton to reach Europe and western parts of Asia. The Portuguese, who were superior in sea routes found the most navigable route to reach India to purchase cotton with which they traded spices. Followed by Portuguese in 1498 CE, the Dutch, English, Danish, French, and Spanish landed in India. Particularly, Pulicat was the largest trading centre of cotton products since 1502 CE.
Our common knowledge is that our farmers are deprived of a fair and sustainable income. Farmers’ suicide has become a regular feature in the news nowadays for which inadequate rainfall/loans cannot be held accountable. History throws a completely different light on this scenario. Recently, through the translation of archived documents, it has been discovered that the regions of Tamilnadu and Coastal Andhra Pradesh were one of the largest producers of premium Cotton in the world, particularly Coromandel-cotton. Records state that more than 4500 ships visited this region to exchange gold for cotton. Currently, Tamil Nadu and Coastal-Andhra Pradesh rank within the top-10 producers in the country. But the question is, then why are farmers unable to sustain an income?
Our findings reveal that during the post-independence period, indigenous cotton was gradually replaced with foreign cotton-seeds, causing the farmers to fully depend on these seeds and chemicals for its growth in foreign soils. Historically, Coromandel cotton was called Palaykat cotton and its product was Palaykat Lungi. The word Palaykat is still commonly used in Malaysia, Singapore, Spain, Srilanka, Saudi Arabia and UAE. The lungi is in common use in Asia, and now it has become fashionable wear in the up-scale European market.
We, AARDE, having already established a sustainable income for the fisher-women of Pulicat through our sustainable Palm-Leaf Craft Plan, would like to bring similar changes for their farmers. The Pulicat region stretches from Kakinada (AP) to Marakanam (TN) through its lagoon and the Buckingham Canal. We are strategizing to revive indigenous cotton production through sustainable farming and scale-up product sales using Information Technology. Our strong presence in Pulicat and Chennai would help establishment of cotton product manufacture and improve incomes for farmers through E-Commerce. The stages of our action plan are:
1) Identification of farmers and weavers in the Pulicat & Buckingham Canal region.
2) Establishment of an indigenous cotton-seed bank with the help of agricultural universities.
3) Provision of adequate sources or micro-finance to the farmers that would help them cultivate Indian cotton
4) Provision of adequate financial support and raw-materials to the weavers for cloth production
5) Tapping markets in ASEAN and Gulf Countries through the support of international NGOs for sales. Development of direct marketing through E-Commerce in India.
6) Research and Development to improve production, design, and quality of products.
This sustainable model will bring about a positive change leading to the conservation of Pulicat Lagoon.
Our holistic and sustainable action plan aims to make a positive impact in the Coromandel Coast by the revival of the cotton-route which would not only bring additional income to the farmers and weavers but would also re-establish the cultural-landscape of the region to that, which existed before independence. This wetland-based ecosystem will regain its ground through the regeneration of the Buckingham Canal and Pulicat region by encouraging organic farming practices. The impact of this strategy will bring about positive changes, such as:
1) Returning indigenous cotton seeds to native farmers.
2) Reviving handloom and increasing income for the weaver community.
3) Restoring soil fertility and its earthworm count by encouraging sustainable farming
4) Reducing migration of weavers and farmers to cities
5) Improving village economy
6) Creating new designs and products of Indian and Coromandel culture.
7) Providing a direct marketing channel for the farmers to sell products in the global market.
8) Containing farmer suicides.
9) Establishing ethnic lungi cloth culture.