Despite its remote location in Rhino Camp, West Nile Sub-Region of Northern Uganda, the Gulu Agriculture Development Company (GADC) Ginnery involves small scale farmers in the global economy. A cotton gin is a machine that separates raw cotton fibres from their seeds. Cotton fibres are amassed into bales of cotton lint weighing anywhere between 180-210 kilograms, which are exported to be turned into textiles.
This series documents key aspects of the growing and ginning of cotton. It is a sequential series that follows cotton from its origins on farms in the Rhino Camp region, to the point it is loaded onto the truck and taken off site from the Ginnery to export. Complementing the Stories from Rhino Camp series, the intention of this work is to highlight the centrality of cotton in the economic and cultural landscape of Rhino Camp.
GADC runs a number of stores in the more isolated areas of Rhino Camp. Field agents manage stores, organising collection of the raw cotton from the stores once they are at capacity. Prices paid to farmers for cotton are set by GADC.
Farmers collect payment upon delivering the cotton to the stores in large sacs where they are paid by the kilogram. The location of stores means that farmers are generally within walking distance from a store (i.e. less than 10km). GADC operates a fleet of small trucks which collect cotton from around West Nile sub-region. Collected cotton is bought to the Ginnery where it is stored before processing.
The process of ginning requires an extensive on-site labour force. As sole employer in the area, Rhino Camp Ginnery is a prominent feature in the local economy.
The Ginnery is divided into two levels. Cotton from the storage facilities is delivered onto the loading bay which spans the entire length of the factory. This upper level holds the raw cotton before it is fed down chutes located on either side. One person is generally stationed between 2-3 chutes. This individual feeds the cotton into the gins located on the ground level. Once the cotton seed and lint are separated by the gin, the lint is fed to a conveyer belt running under the factory floor where it delivers it to a processing machine which compresses it into bales. Bales are then shifted by labourers to nearby storage sheds. The cotton seed is collected separately, bagged and sold to buyers who use it to make cotton oil which is largely used for cooking.
Packing and moving the bales of cotton is the most labour intensive aspect of the process. The weight of each bale is recorded by the bale clerk (Tony Okwanga pictured). After the ginning hall, bales of cotton are stored for collection. A clerk independent from GADC checks truck weights before and after they are loaded. This is cross-checked with the weights from the ginning hall.
Once exported bales will be turned into cotton textiles. It is entirely possible that a garment you are wearing has its origins from one of the small scale farmers located in the Rhino Camp area.