Have you ever wondered what goes into your skin care products? Mostly chemical compounds, you might think. Many are based however on shea butter, a natural ingredient produced from shea nuts. I recently visited a shea butter producer cooperative that takes part in the SNV Shea Butter Community Commerce project.
In the grassy bushes around the fast growing Ghanaian city of Tamale, it's mostly women who produce shea butter. The land on which their trees grow is communal land, that is formally owned by the village chiefs. The women's situation is often uncertain. As the city expands, it is highly lucrative for the landowners to sell their plots for city expansion. The farmers will have to start all over again in a more remote area, plant new trees and wait for them to mature. Additionally, the quality of their product varies and is often low. This in turn limits the ability of companies to incorporate them as suppliers as they need consistent high quality shea butter for their own manufacturing.
The American company Sundial Brands asked SNV to work with several shea butter producer cooperatives in the Tamale area to improve the quality of their product with the larger aim to increase the income of the female shea butter farmers. Since we started working with them, several concrete improvements have been made.
After cracking the nuts with a simple machine-crusher, the ladies used to cook them for hours at a stretch on an open fire. Now they know that only 40 minutes are needed to release the nuts' oils. Efficient stoves with chimneys prevent the women from inhaling smoke while stirring the mixture.
Due to these changes, the quality of the shea butter has improved greatly and the ladies in the cooperative now have a guaranteed buyer, the Sundial Brands company. As a result, their incomes have significantly increased.
I ask them what they like most about their new situation. One lady replies without the slightest hesitation, "I can send my son to school now, with some money in his pocket to buy food. I no longer have to worry about him walking on an empty stomach." Another one adds, “I no longer need to roam the markets in search of customers, haggling about prices.”