The shea nut business continues to create sustainable income opportunities for hundreds of rural women particularly in the Northern part of the country. In these communities, women are often the primary breadwinners for their families and income opportunities are limited. In an effort to encourage more women to improve their livelihoods about fourteen women groups comprising shea nut pickers and shea butter producers in the Kumbungu district of the Northern region have been given certification to sell their products on the international market.
This is the first direct financial support to women-led enterprises to obtain a Fairtrade certificate through UNDP Global Environment Facility Small Grants Program. This will help women entrepreneurs to become more competitive in the local and international markets. This marks the beginning of a lucrative business and it is expected that more women entrepreneurs will take advantage of this opportunity to achieve a better and more sustainable future.
For centuries, shea nut has been referred to as “women’s gold” because of its rich golden colour and because it provides employment, medicinal benefits and nutrition for millions of women across Africa. The sector employs an estimated 3 million women across West Africa, generates between USD 90 million and USD 200 million a year from exports and promotes economic activity in communities, as recorded by the United States Agency for International Development in 2010. The shea nut serves as the main source of livelihood for the rural women and children who are engaged in its gathering. Shea butter is the main edible oil for the people of northern Ghana, being the most important source of fatty acids and glycerol in their diet.
In Northern Ghana alone, the Shea butter industry has the potential to increase incomes and food security for over 900,000 women. The Shea fruit is a great source of nutrients for people in rural Africa that often have limited food sources, while the Shea nut can be processed into butter which can be used for cooking or to make cosmetics which are used all over the world. In addition, Shea trees help to stabilize the environment and build resilience against the climate change crisis. Currently, in West Africa, Shea trees absorb and fix an incredible about 1.5 million tonnes of Carbon dioxide (CO2) every yea. Research by the Ghana Standard Authority (GSA) in 2020 revealed the Shea trees’ economic value, as Ghana earns more than 32 million US Dollars annually from the exportation of Shea products.
Therefore it is not for nothing that an organisation such as UNDP has set up small grants to support women particularly women groups to empower them to produce in large quantities to meet international standards. The UNDP Sustainable Shea Butter Training and Fair Trade Project started implementation by Ripples OR Ghana, a local NGO, in December 2019. In all 1,680 women from 10 shea nut picking communities were audited and certified by Ecocert as organic and fair trade shea nut collectors. 244 women from 5 shea butter producing communities were also trained and audited. About 14 new groups including women from North East and Upper East regions were registered in 2020/2021. Each of the beneficiary communities signed on to the group organic and fair trade social policies which explain the purpose of organic and fair trade, social policies such as the basic rights of all workers, and child labor. The organic and fair-trade certificates would have an influence on women’s development policies particularly on the expected outcomes of the GEF-6 project which aims at expanding and making impacts on women-led enterprises in Ghana. It will also make the women take advantage of the Africa Free Trade Continental Area policies when trade barriers are removed to facilitate easy trading to other African countries.
UNDP Field Visit
At a field trip to some shea farms at Yepielgu in Kumbungu, the UN Resident Representative, Dr. Angela Lusigi, together with her team joined some shea nut pickers to collect shea nuts. Being her first time seeing and tasting a shea fruit, she was elated to have that experience. She acknowledged the tedious work women go through to pick the nuts and pledged UNDP’s support towards the Shea Butter project to improve the livelihoods of women. “I really salute these women who have to go through this twice a day in addition to other duties which is why the UNDP GEF project has invested a grant to help these women entrepreneurs to be able to access technology and skills to improve the way they are able to process the shea butter and also to be able to access new market for organic and fair trade,” she emphasised.
Napare Yakubu, Shea Nut picker, said they depend on the sale of the nuts to take care of themselves and their children. She called on UNDP to consider their plight and set up an industry for them. She appealed, “UNDP if you go back, try and set up an industry here to help us to sustain our livelihoods.”
Ayishetu Mohammed, a magajia for one of the women groups, acknowledged the benefits of the shea butter business to women in the community and surrounding communities. She said the certification has given them a boost to do more to meet international standards for their sustained livelihoods. “I have seven children and they are all in school, two of them are currently in the university. It is through this business I am able to give my children good education. Now the certification by UNDP will let us sell more and empower us economically,” Magajia revealed.
At a short durbar to officially commission the Sustainable Shea Butter Training and Fair Trade Project after two years of implementation, the CEO of Maltiti Enterprise who doubles as the Director for Ripples OR Ghana, Madam Rabiatu Abukari said the project has created a sustainable opportunity for the beneficiaries to sell more and increase income levels.
She said a fair-trade fund has been established to raise funds for the implementation of community development projects as well as take care of the welfare of workers. She indicated plans by her organization to scale up other women groups from other northern regions if it wins other medium or large GEF grants projects. She further indicated, “We also have plans to raise funds to improve the infrastructure at processing centres as well as manage the shea liquid waste. We intend to acquire a Kia truck that can transport the organic shea nut from the rural areas to the processing centers as well as raise funds to develop a model shea butter processing centre with a refinery machine to produce shea oil.”
A CALL FOR ACTION
The UN Resident Representative, Dr. Angela Lusigi, said the more women are empowered, the more we are directly addressing the challenges of poverty, inequality and food insecurity in the country. She, therefore, called on managers of the project to apply diligence and skill in the judicious use of resources to sustain success and to make a greater impact.
“Your future success will help to galvanize more funding support from other partners including the private sector to support women entrepreneurs across the region and the country at large. You must succeed. I urge you to aim high, work hard and stay focused to succeed. The certificate you will receive today should urge you to do more and to persevere,” she stressed.
Dr. Lusigi emphasised that 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. She said together, we all can fight poverty and inequality in all its dimensions by growing profitable women-led green businesses for this generation and the generation to come. She added, “That is our contribution to realizing the Sustainable Development Goals.”
The Fair for Life Certificates of Compliance, USDA National Organic Program and the Ecocert Organic Certificates were presented to Ripples OR Ghana as gateway to sell in the international market.
Given that, improving the livelihoods of the Shea communities, women collectors, and processors would help curb the unemployment rates and also encourage more women and youth to venture into the sector, therefore it is prudent that the government, Ministry of Food and Agriculture, stakeholders in Agriculture and local and international organizations support the shea nut sector to empower more women and alleviate poverty among rural households.