First women-owned cotton farm stayed resilient during Covid

4 February 2021

The “first women-owned organic cotton farm in The Gambia” has managed to operated normally throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

The Elsie Women Empowerment Farm, owned by Elsie Williams, employs around 30 people, mostly women.

The five-hectare farm “stayed resilient, operating as usual” during the pandemic, according to the International Trade Centre (ITC), and expects to export more than a ton of cotton in the next season.

“Elsie Women Empowerment Farm is the first women-owned farm producing organic cotton in The Gambia,” said the ITC.

It was a grant from the ITC’s SheTrades Gambia project, financed by the OPEC Fund for International Development and the Enhanced Integrated Framework, that enabled Williams to buy land, seeds and equipment to launch the business in 2019.

“My vision was to revitalise cotton production in The Gambia,” she told the ITC.

“When we are successful with this, much more people will have jobs. I told myself to take the responsibility and mobilise other women, as I cannot do this alone.”

In recent years The Gambia has made efforts to revitalise its once thriving cotton industry, which collapsed when world cotton prices fell to historic lows in 2001.

A cotton ginnery, or processing plant, set up with funds from the African Development Bank in 1972, became a mainstay of the Upper River Region and acted as a base for the country’s cotton industry, but now lies in ruins.

It was bought by a French firm in the 1980s but then abandoned. As The Gambia seeks to rebuild its cotton industry, producers are encouraged to travel to neighbouring Senegal for the processing of their crop.

Williams said she had identified a growing demand for organic cotton in recent years, which encouraged her to start the farm.

“We do not use harmful chemicals and at the same time get good prices in export. The world needs more organic,” she said.

She said that support from the SheTrades project meant she was able to buy a weeding and seeding machine to increase the efficiency of production.

“The support from SheTrades was a very important factor for my farm to evolve,” Williams said. “We were able to buy a weeding and seeding machine to increase the efficiency of our production. Before the training in record keeping, I had no overview of my expenses. Now, I know on what I spent my money.”

Williams is also focusing on the production of cotton oil, which she said had health benefits in treating nausea, fever and headache.

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