Story: Gambian entrepreneur empowers women through organic cotton production

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Elsie’s Women Empowerment Farm is known as the first women-owned farm producing organic cotton in the Gambia, and as the name might suggest, women’s economic empowerment is at the heart of this enterprise. Moreover, as a member of the Young Female Farmers Association, Elsie A. Williams works together with the association to boost women’s role in agriculture.

 

‘My vision was to revitalize cotton production in The Gambia,’ says the farm owner. ‘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.’

The Gambia has a rich history in cotton production – a major cash crop in the 1970s and 1980s. However, as a result of political changes, cotton production and export decreased significantly at the end of the century.

Observing the shifting market, Elsie identified a growing demand for organic cotton in recent years. This trend motivated her to start the Elsie Women Empowerment Farm in 2019.

‘We do not use harmful chemicals and at the same time get good prices in export. The world needs more organic,’ Elsie proudly proclaims.

Having received a grant from the International Trade Centre’s SheTrades Gambia project, financed by the OPEC Fund for International Development and the Enhanced Integrated Framework, Elsie was able to buy land, seeds and equipment to launch her business. She also enhanced her skills through training, from courses on record keeping to packaging and product photography.

‘The support from SheTrades was a very important factor for my farm to evolve,’ explains the founder of Elsie Women Empowerment Farm. ‘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.’

Over 30 people work on Elsie’s 5-hectare farm, most of them women. While many businesses in the Gambia were heavily affected by the COVID-19 crisis, the organic farm stayed resilient, operating as usual. In the next season, Elsie plans to export over a ton of cotton while continuing to work on obtaining her organic certification.

Over the next few years, the manager intends to revitalize the cotton sector by exporting raw cotton, while establishing a value chain in the region.

While her long-term vision is the local production of woven fabric and clothes, she is now focusing on the production of cotton oil – an achievable target and one that still promises substantial value-addition.

‘Many don’t know that cotton oil is an effective remedy for nausea, fever, headache, diarrhoea, dysentery, nerve pain, and bleeding,’ says Elsie.

The Gambian plans to sell the oil with its beneficial properties directly to local customers as well as exporting it internationally. The packaging and photography training she received from SheTrades gave her many ideas on how to proceed with this, she explains excitedly.

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