Its very quiet at the ginnery. The loud buzz of the generator has gone, along with the whirring of the gin machines, the grumbling motors of the trucks, the clatter of cups and plates from the kitchen during tea breaks. The compound is deserted. The doors to the factory are padlocked. After more than seven months of ginning, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, the last bit of fresh cotton has been separated into cotton lint and cotton seed.
The action has moved to the farms, where many of the casual workers have rejoined extended families, hastily harvesting the first rainy season’s goods and planting for the second. It’s Northern Uganda’s most feverishly busy farming season. The ginnery’s field staff are travelling huge distances every day to reach as many farmers as possible for training. They’re giving out the organic cotton bonus, reminding farmers of organic cotton techniques, training in the new chili crop, planting demonstration gardens, sowing trial plots for new seeds.
Back at the compound, the silence is about to be broken by an overhaul of the factory. The owners of the ginnery (who we rent from) have purchased new equipment: faster, more modern gin machines, a conveyor to carry the lint through the factory floor, and an automatic bale-press that fills itself, measures the correct weight, and churns out bales twice as fast as the old one.
I can’t tell you which part of the pictured equipment is which, but I do know its going to make the ginnery much more efficient.
After three years of exponential growth in the business, this kind of investment is now clearly worth it. The factory will no longer be such a dusty relic from British colonial times, cringingly old-fashioned in the way it works and looks.
But there’s also another side to it… With the automatic machinery, the ginnery won’t need six lint-collectors, or four weighers, or four bale-press operators, in any of the three shifts. So forty-two jobs are wiped from the pay-roll. Next year, the ginnery should add just as many in other areas, for grading & packing sesame & chilies, and processing cottonseed oil (more on that later), but its a clear reminder that ‘progress’ can actually mean fewer jobs.