By Ben Naturinda
Talking to women cotton farmers in Uganda about producing cotton products beyond lint draws excitement. The majority of them do not really know exactly what happens to the cotton lint they sell to ginneries, and none have had any training in the production of higher value goods made from lint. What they are certain about though, is that their cotton is the source of the expensive clothing that is sold in international markets. Hence, they are convinced that any products that they themselves could make out of the cotton would fetch more income than the lint, and thereby improve their economic wellbeing.
With this in mind, from 4-17 September 15 young women from Nyakatonzi Cooperative Union in Western Uganda enthusiastically joined the SITA supported training in hand spinning.
The training was implemented under a local partnership involving the Uganda Textile Development Agency, the Uganda Industrial Research Institute and Nyakatonzi Cooperative Union, which is the largest cotton producers and ginners cooperative union in the country.
The concept of the hand spinning intervention was arrived at out of an elaborate process of needs assessment that involved various local stakeholders including the women cotton farmers in Western Uganda.
The Uganda Textile Development Agency (TEXDA) conducted the intensive two-week course with two experienced and seasoned trainers sourced from the Uganda Industrial Research Institute. The course was not only designed to upskill the young women in hand spinning, but also train them to transfer those skills to other women in the cooperative.
On the first day, the young women learnt to assemble and disassemble spinning wheels and mastered the different accessories that they need to use to run the spinning wheels. They were also taught about the different items that they could make from cotton on a small-scale level if they mastered hand spinning and weaving. They then underwent 13 days of intensive practical hand spinning.
According to Mrs Edith Katusiime, the Ag. Secretary Manager of Nyakatonzi Growers Cooperative Union, “Women in our cooperative are excited about this training. Since cotton farming was introduced to the region, the women have never produced anything beyond cotton lint. Hand spinning and perhaps eventually weaving activities will provide extra income from value addition and help keep the women employed during the non-production period.”
SITA’s handloom interventions help women to produce basic cotton products beginning with yarn, which they can sell to local markets and later on to international markets. The Textile Development Agency will initially provide a local market for any hand spun yarn that the women produce until such a time when these women are able to use the yarn themselves for the production of various handloom items.
The 15 women that have received training are now expected to start training other women in their cooperatives. The Nyakatonzi Cooperative Union has over 5000 women members from a number of cooperatives around Western Uganda. In the next phase, the aim is for a large number of these women to be trained, with the hope that a vibrant textile cluster will begin to form in the region.
The next steps will depend on carefully navigating challenges that come with such a maiden intervention. Some of these challenges include:
To mitigate these challenges, the Nyakatonzi Cooperative Union will make spinning an integral part of their business model, establishing a collection centre for the yarn produced by the women. There is also the possibility of the Union extending credit lines. In addition, SITA is in discussions with the Uganda Industrial Research Institute to upscale their capacity to produce good quality spinning wheels and accessories for the handloom sector in the country. Through these interventions, SITA looks forward to the further development of the sector, and higher incomes for the women involved.