Shea butter is a popular ingredients sought after by the cosmetics and food industry. Made from the nut of Vitellaria paradoxa, or the shea tree that is indigenous to Africa, shea butter provides income to millions of women across the sahel region on the continent. Extending from Senegal on the Atlantic coast in the west to the Red Sea coast of Sudan in the east, the sahel is a semi-arid region that is favorable for the growth of shea trees.
There are moves underfoot in the region to transform shea butter from a cottage industry where women work independently and sell locally into a global big business. In many places, mechanical processing is slowly replacing the laborious manual work involved in cracking, roasting, grinding and refining shea butter. Also, new more productive trees are being planted in place of the traditional trees that grow in the wild. Burkina Faso, which earns an estimated $33 million annually and Ghana are among the world’s leading exporters.
The Global Shea Alliance (GSA), which groups together more than 400 members from 31 countries, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), recently signed a $13 million, five-year agreement to promote markets for shea butter worldwide and improve sustainable production in Africa.
According to President of the Global Shea Alliance, Moumouni Konate, the shea industry is changing and companies, governments, and donors are investing more in sustainable production and improving the benefit to 16 million women collectors and processors.
"The goal of this critical partnership is to help women collectors and processors organize into cooperatives, obtain equipment and training, and improve the financial benefit from the sale of their products. Stronger and more profitable women's groups will process more shea, improve quality, and protect the trees," he added.
Speaking at the annual GSA conference in Accra, Ghana, the Director of USAID/West Africa Mission, Alex Deprez, said, "We know well the benefits of increased trade for rural communities across Africa. “The Global Shea Alliance is pioneering efforts to grow markets and improve the livelihoods of rural women and their families that stand at the base of the shea value chain. We are proud to partner in these activities."
According to the group, the partnership will match up to $6.5 million in USAID funds with $6.5 million in private sector funding raised by the Global Shea Alliance to implement promotional and sustainability activities in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, and Nigeria.
The GSA and USAID also hope to work together to construct 250 warehouses for women shea collector and processor groups; provide capacity building and trainings for 137,500 women shea collectors and processors; launch health and safety initiatives for women collectors and improve the financial benefit of women collectors and processors by 50 percent.