Tapping into the women's gold
When crushed and processed, the nuts of the shea tree yield a vegetable fat known as shea butter. Generations of women in northern Ghana have passed on to their daughters the technique of manually harvesting and processing shea nuts into butter. Shea butter is used as cooking oil for traditional dishes and as a panacea for skin and inflammatory ailments. Hence, Ghanaian culture regards the shea nut tree as a sacred resource that can neither be Individually owned nor cut down. The tree is an integral part of the local ecosystem, providing a natural barrier to encroaching desertification from the Sahel basin.
Shea butter production also plays a unique economic role. The activity is reserved for women and is exclusively under their control, allowing them to generate an income. Eighty percent of Africa’s shea exports are currently sold as raw nuts to large industrial processors. Producing and exporting processed shea butter adds value to the product, increasing the incomes of women and households in some of the most impoverished regions of West Africa. For this reason, the shea tree is described as “women’s gold”.
Through a three-year programme started in January 2008 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Africa 2000 Network, with financial support from the Japanese Government, several women have received skills to enable them process shea nuts into butter, soap and other finished products for local consumption and export.
- Shea butter production is reserved for and controlled by women, allowing them to generate income
- The project is implemented jointly by the UNDP and Africa 2000 Network, with financial support from the Japanese Government.
- Several women have received skills to enable them process shea nuts into butter, soap and other finished products for local consumption and export.
UNDP and Africa 2000 Network adopted a comprehensive approach working with people’s knowledge, language and culture.Capitalising on shea butter’s global popularity, UNDP and Japan have teamed up to bolster female entrepreneurs in Ghana and strengthen the African country’s economy by increasing production of the nut-based fat. Working with the Sangnarigu Women’s Shea Butter Group, the Project facilitated the creation of synergies among various shea butter production groups who now benefit from other initiatives. Leaders of Sagnarigu Women Shea Butter Group visited Japan and recently India to share their experiences and learn how to market their products.
The project has been successful because the women identified their own needs and made evidence of a strong cohesion. They have nominated leaders and are trying to improve the situation in their communities. The association and the exposure has helped them to better communicate and has significantly broadened their perspectives.
Adamu is a 65-year old woman from Sagnarigu Dungu, a community in Ghana’s Northern Region. She has been working with the Sangnarigu Women’s Shea Butter Group for 12 years. After getting married, she began producing shea butter on her own. "I used to make about GHC 6.OO (US$3.00) a month but now, I earn approximately GHC 50.00 (US$25.00) a month", she said. During emergencies, she goes to sell some shea butter at the local market. This has drastically reduced her borrowing and improved savings.
For many years, Amina faced countless challenges not knowing how to fend for herself and her four children before she joined the Sangnarigu Women Shea butter Group.A year after joining the center, Amina now earns GHC 80 (US$40) a month. She noted noted, "the increase in my income has had numerous positive impacts on my health, the education levels of my children and improved my marriage. I can now afford to buy school uniforms, bags and shoes for my children." An increase in nutrition levels has translated into a reduction in the number of visits to the hospital for both Amina and her family. Through the support of UNDP and partners, shea butter production has significantly contributed to improved living standards of local women and their households.