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Weaving a Better Future, One Cotton Thread at a Time

AFRICA SERIES : PART 10

Cotton balls

When the creamy-brownish blossoms finally appear after months of waiting, the people of Adaklu in eastern Ghana know it will soon be harvest time. They will pick the brown cotton, indigenous to this area, and make it into Adaklu Tsatsa, the prestigious traditional cloth worn to ceremonies and festivals. The naturally brown cotton is not only beautiful – it’s also nice to wear, says Princess Akosua Love Kpedekpo, a local community champion.

Today, brown cotton has become a cash crop for this community of some 36 villages at the basis of Mount Adaklu, while Adaklu Tsatsa – a source of income.

Weaving cotton in Adaklu.

Oral tradition has it that Adaklu communities have long earned their living by supplying cotton threads to their neighbours. They’re doing it again now, producing coats and bags and selling them to tourists visiting the villages.

It all started in 1992, when Mamaga Afedimall decided to revive traditional cotton weaving practices – and by doing so, empower local women economically and encourage them to take pride in their work and their roots. As the community’s Queen Mother, Mamaga serves the interests of its women. “Kings traditionally would go to war,” Princess says. “Queen Mother is different. She said, ‘The only war we have to fight is poverty’.”

The cultivation of brown cotton as cash crop, coupled with eco-tourism development at the base of the picturesque Mount Adaklu, has had fascinating results in the community.

First of all, there’s now the Early Childhood Development Centre, the first-ever nursery/kindergarten in the area, free for all children to use. “Kids are in heaven there,” Princess says. Previously, children waiting for their mothers to finish a day’s labour in the fields were often falling prey to scorpions, and Queen Mother’s verandah became the first unofficial kindergarten. Now they have their own building where no scorpion can reach them. Orphaned children are also taken care of here.

Princess is proud to say that there’s a library in the villages now, and a maternity clinic is on the way too. She says brown cotton also helped reduce death rates among the elderly: single women who can no longer take care of themselves and have no-one to take care of them now receive financial help from the common kitty.

Cotton plant.

Men have been positively responsive, too: they do weaving for the women and help out with the visitors.

However successful Adaklu’s brown cotton might be, in global context it drowns among the mainstream way of doing things: cotton, the everyday item we take for granted, is not as nice and clean as we ‘d like to think.

According to The Deadly Chemicals in Cotton, a report by the UK-based Environmental Justice Foundation, because of the plant’s attractiveness to pests and weeds, US $2bn worth of chemicals is sprayed on the world’s cotton crops annually. Half of these chemicals are considered “hazardous” by the World Health Organisation.

The environmental cost of cotton is coupled with the social one, with many cotton pickers being denied basic rights and decent pay. No wonder cotton, the most valuable non-food agricultural product, is labelled as “the world’s dirtiest crop”.

In this light, organic, ethically produced cotton is ever more important.

Adaklu women and the fruit of their labour.

The story of brown cotton in Adaklu is yet another proof that economic empowerment really does work miracles. It is also a living evidence that development is most successful when communities themselves decide what’s best for them, and take charge of their own matters.

“The project brought light back to the community,” Princess says. “All the women are involved, and every day the village is moving.”

Images: Courtesy of Princess Akosua Love Kpedekpo and the Adaklu brown cotton producers.

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About The Author(s)



Giedre Steikunaite

Giedre Steikunaite

Freelance Writer / Journalist

A freelance writer and journalist currently based in London, UK. The issues I explore are human rights // environment // culture, and the people who are making a change towards a possible future for all of us.

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