Monday, 24 October 2016

Health Risks Associated with Shea Butter Production

                      Health Risks Associated With Shea Butter Production

By Michael Adu

Shea Butter is a natural fat extract taken from the nut of the Shea tree, which is found only in the arid Savannah regions of Africa. It has been hand-crafted and used for centuries by Africans as cooking oil, a therapeutic skin balm, as well as an intensive moisturiser.

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Ghana, More than 60,0000 women in Northern Ghana depend on the incomes from the sales of Shea butter and other Shea-related products as a means of their daily subsistence. Shea butter production has been a key income source for rural women over the years and has resulted in improving the living standards of these women.

The Government of Ghana and stakeholders in the Shea butter industry, over the years, has been putting policies and measures in place to improve the quality of Shea butter produced in Ghana because it has the potential of evolving into a viable export industry since private businesses in several countries have been expressing their interest in importing Shea butter. In doing so, the risks and health issues associated with Shea butter production have been ignored.

Health and Safety are vital issues when it comes to Shea butter production but there are no proper health and safety measures, protocols and contingency plans put in place to address and minimise the risks associated with Shea butter processing. Research has shown that, most people in Ghana who produce Shea butter use traditional techniques and skills from the collection of nuts to the optimal packaging of the butter. They use the traditional method of production through all processing stages. These people have limited knowledge about the risks and health issues they are prone to. Most them suffer from snakebites and scorpion stings, muscular and skeletal injuries, heat stroke, burns, tuberculosis, and asthma etc.

I never understood this issue until I worked on a team of 10 International service volunteers at PAGSUNG, women’s group, who are into Shea butter processing in Sangarigu Tamale, Ghana. The zeal and willingness to earn a daily bread has left these women (most of them mothers) prone to many health issues including excessive smoke inhalation from the traditional cookstoves they use, illness and the meager income earned from the sales of the butter is spent at the hospital, a concern the Chief of Sangarigu shared with us when we visited him in his palace.

In tackling this issue, the Ghana Health service and major players in the shea industry should include health and safety of Shea butter production in policy formulation. Also, research work should be commissioned by the Government of Ghana in partnership with state owned universities to identify alternative and affordable sources of fuel for production of Shea butter. Furthermore, Training and sensitisation should be prioritised to create awareness on most of the health implications of Shea butter processing. Lastly, all who can should help improve the infrastructure and facilities of the local women groups in Ghana who are into Shea butter production to raise the quality of produce.


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