Monday, 22 August 2016

Increasing the sustainability of the Shea Butter Industry in Northern Ghana

Increasing the sustainability of the Shea Butter Industry in Northern Ghana
By Michael Adu

From body lotion to hair products, Shea butter is produced from an oil extracted from the kernel of the shea nut. The nuts of the shea tree are collected and processed by crushing and grinding to yield shea butter which is used in the making of a variety of products including soap and body lotion. Shea butter is also edible and can be used in food preparation.

From cream, to soap and shower gel, the demand for Shea Butter for cosmetics is on the rise around the world. It is processed from the nuts of shea trees that grow in the Sahel region which extends from West to East Africa. Shea butter has been called “Woman’s Gold” for centuries not only because of its unusual rich gold colour but also because it provides job opportunities and income for millions of women across Africa. The production of shea butter is a very important element in the economy of countries in Sub Saharan Africa, it is one of these countries’ major exports.

The United Nations Development Programme(UNDP)estimates that around three million African women are involved directly in shea butter production and trade and according to The New York Times, it is estimated that shea butter exports from West Africa alone garner between USD 90 million and USD 200 million a year.

According to UNDP, in the Northern part of Ghana, 600,000 women earn an income from shea butter and other related products. They have traditionally played an important role in the extraction of shea butter, right from the collection of shea nuts to its final processing. However due to the economic conditions on shea trade (i.e.; Organic certificates for exportation and importation), this has restricted sellers to only selling nationally, something which has been a challenge for many years.

In addition to its importance, Shea butter production can significantly contribute to increasing the possibility of the income and the living standards of local women and their households, which is a big step in achieving sustainable development goal one which is to eradicate poverty
In addressing this issue and other challenges which the majority of these women face, UNDP and Africa 2000 have had a positive impact and commitment to the women of the Shea industry. An example of this is when UNDP, Africa 2000 and the Japan government teamed up in 2015 and took the leaders of Sagnarigu women shea butter group (Tamale-Ghana) to Japan and India to share their experiences and teach them how to market their products.

But the big question is, what role is the government of Ghana playing in helping these women; who bring their strength, expertise and skills in achieving SDG1 which is NO  POVERTY? The primary role of the government is to solve and manage challenges that confront its people through policies and sustainable interventions. Thanks to International Service which is under International Citizen Service, I have worked with PAGSUNG (women’s group) who organise Shea butter processing in Northern-Ghana. The government of Ghana in the past have posted national service personnel to PAGSUNG to help the women and also provided them with a kneading machine. But there is always room to improve and I think the government of Ghana can do better than what it has done for PAGSUNG.

In going forward, all hands must be on deck to; 1) Increase the quality of shea butter to an international standard, 2) Explore new markets for shea butter 3) Provide business management skills for local womens’ producer groups.  All these things must be done with the aim of empowering women in Northern Ghana and Alleviating their poverty by making the shea butter industry a more sustainable one.

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