The case of Rabi Fatawu’s shea business


Rabi Fatawu, aged 24 is a married woman in the village of Gapagnarigu in the Kumbugu District in the Northern Region of Ghana. Her husband is a traditional farmer. Erratic rainfall and increasing cost of agricultural inputs continue to erode the little gain he gets from the farm to take care of his family. As a result, Rabi had to find a sustainable alternative source of income to take care of food, education and health needs of her children and husband. She thus plays an important role in contributing to her family’s livelihood.

As is the case for most women in northern Ghana, she has no access to land or capital. With very little opportunities at her disposal in the village, migrating to Accra or Kumasi to work as an informal street vendor was the obvious thing to do. Rabi, however opted to join her elder sister to make a living from shea butter processing. With a registration fee of $1, she decided to join the Bandisuglo Women Shea Butter Processing Society in 2011. Since then, like other members, she contributes her monthly dues of $0.20 on a very irregular basis and could not fulfil all financial commitments such as the social fund and the intermittent levies to maintain the processing centre.

The Babdisuglo Women Shea Butter Society has been in existence since 2000. The membership consists of 110 women who also engage in sorghum, maize and soyabean cultivation on a small scale. Shea is their main income source and largely support the family. Most of the women live within the community. The women have on the average about 5 children each. The Society has Md Rita Dampson as the president and Amina Mumuni as the Makazie with support from other 5 executives. It holds monthly meetings and quarterly general meetings. The Society’s main focus is to engage in income generation to mitigate poverty amongst families in its catchment area, particularly amongst women.

In 2010, the Society constructed a room and installed a mill to produce shea butter. As a result, the Society’s production increased but they were faced with limited market for their butter. They also lacked the cooperative management skills, record keeping, negotiation skills and basic entrepreneurial skills. The limited market dampened their spirit as their hard labour was yielding little results. Some of Rabi’s colleagues abandoned the shea butter processing and travelled to the south for “the perceived greener pastures”. With determination, Rabi stayd in the village.

As the adage goes, ‘there is always light at the end of the tunnel’. In 2014 SNV, in partnership with Sundial Brands - a health and beauty manufacturer - joined forces in strengthening the capacity of the Society members for quality and efficient processing, business management and healthy and safe production technologies. Through the partnership, a processing centre was provided with additional equipment such as crusher, roasters, energy saving stoves and polytanks. A storeroom, kneading shed and cooking shed were also constructed to reduce the drudgery of processing. Between April to December 2014, Sundial Brands Limited placed an order of 130 tons through Savannah Fruits Company (SFC) to the five beneficiary Societies in batches out of which the Bandisuglo Women Shea Butter Society produced 36 tons by December 2014.

Rabi produced 0.8tons valued at $914.00 during the production of the first batch supplied to Sundial Brands Limited between April and May 2014. She made a net profit of $390 and again received $160.00 as Sundial premium and $24.00 as SFC bonus. To Rabi, this has been the greatest motivation to continue working with the Society: "Comparing Sundial price and other buyers, Sundial is far better, they pay before you process, provide packaging material and still give a bonus”.

Rabi Fatawu

Rabi Fatawu

By December, 2014, Rabi had produced 4.2 tons out of the 36 tons produced by her Society with the assistance of her sister. Besides Sundial orders, Rabi processes on average a 25kg of butter per week for sale to other buyers and the local market. She also produces for the local market in order to earn some additional income although this profit margin is smaller than Sundial orders. Her two children who were out of school due to non-payment of fees are now back to school; the family health insurance which expired 6 months ago has also been renewed. She says “I am able to buy kerosene, soap, food items and pay my dues regularly”. She hopes to produce more for Sundial and buy a “motor king” (a tricycle). She also aspires to undertake rice parboiling and milling as a business in the future.

The story of Rabi exemplifies how several women are making a living, improving their family lives and building sustainable future in the shea industry with the support of SNV and its partners by making markets accessible and production methods more efficient. In most communities in West Africa, particularly between April-June, women are seen carrying head pans full of the sheanuts or big calabashes full of the butter en route to the nearest market and on their way back home they buy basic household items. The shea products find their way into the export market through the middlemen and rake in several millions of dollars that support the precarious economies at national level.  Sundial Brands goes a step further by providing a guaranteed and profitable market option for the women at local level. The industry has enormous potential to help in poverty alleviation. The combination of capacity strengthening, access to sustainable markets and commitment to poverty reduction is the basis for the partnership of SNV and Sundial Brands. SNV has the capacity and hopes to build such inclusive businesses not only in shea but in other economically viable commodities where women, children and youth are the major beneficiaries.