The shea industry in Ghana is traditionally dominated by women and provides a source of income for many families, particularly in the rural areas in Northern Ghana. This is because, the shea tree grows well in the savannah ecological zone. Women are mostly engaged in shea picking, sale of the fresh shea fruits, processing, and sale of the shea nuts. The shea has many healing properties and is good for food and used to produce shea butter and shea cooking oil.
“When it comes to the shea, nothing is a waste. We get cosmetics, food and medicinal products, and even use the wastewater after boiling it as energy for cooking”, noted Hajia Rabiatu Abukari, Producer of Malti Products and Director of Ripples Ghana, a shea producing NGO in the Northern Region of Ghana.
Given its immense importance, the sustainability of the shea butter production value chain is critical to the economic development of women in the Northern Zone of Ghana. To promote fair trade certification for products made by Ghanaian women in the shea butter industry, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), through the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme (GEF-SGP), supported a project that is being implemented by Ripples Ghana.
The project has enabled Ripples Ghana to receive Ecocert for Fair-Trade Certification, to sell shea products in the international market. The products including shea butter, are being produced by 244 shea producers and 3000 shea pickers in 14 communities in the Kumbungu district of the Northern Region of Ghana, who are members of Ripples Ghana.
“We are very grateful to UNDP and the GEF-Small Grant Programme, for supporting us, as we are currently the first women-led enterprise to have received the Fair-Trade certification. Our women worked hard, so we used two and half years to receive the certification, instead of the normal five years, and we are very proud and happy”, Hajia Abukari stated.
The Resident Representative of UNDP in Ghana, Dr. Angela Lusigi, speaking at the ceremony to officially outdoor the Ghana Fair Trade Certification and Sustainable Shea Butter Production project, reiterated UNDP’s commitment to support the economic empowerment of women to advance inclusive and sustainable development.
“Supporting Ghana to empower women entrepreneurs through skills development, innovation, technology transfer, knowledge management, and access to financial resources remains a key priority for UNDP and the UN in Ghana. Together, we can fight poverty and inequality in all its dimensions by growing profitable women-led green businesses for this generation and the generation to come towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals”, stated Dr Lusigi.
Through the UNDP-GEF funded project, the women were supported with improved technology including semi-automated kneading machines, which are helping to reduce their shea producing labour by 40%. They have also received skills development training to promote sustainable shea production practices and added a new production line by producing black soaps and hand sanitizers.
“UNDP has been part of Ghana’s development since time immemorial. Thank you, UNDP for supporting our women shea producers to access international markets through the GEF-Small Grant Programme,” noted Naa Imoro Andani, Chief of Zugu in the Kumbungu District of the Northern Region of Ghana.
The Fair-Trade certification is expected to help the women to significantly increase their profits margin, as this will raise their prices to standard Fairtrade minimum prices of sustainable shea nut picking and shea butter production. Additional shea producing women centres are being established through training to facilitate organic shea production and more fair-trade certifications.
It is often said that women are the main agents of change in society and if they are empowered, they can directly contribute to addressing the challenges of poverty, inequality, and food insecurity. More partnerships can help the women groups address their remaining challenges, particularly those relating to effective waste management. As the women will want to turn their huge amount of shea waste into biogas, with the needed support.