Making the collection of “Women’s Gold” safer for women in Ghana

Making the collection of “Women’s Gold” safer for women in Ghana

It’s dawn in the savanna land of Ghana. The rains are setting in with strong winds, the weather is cold, and the sun is awakening at 5:30am. As the cock crows, the frogs croak, the owls hoot and the birds cheep, chirp and shriek, it’s time for madam Ernestina to start her 2-3 kilometer walk into the shea parkland, where she has worked for several decades.

Today, Ernestina will collect shea nuts which are used for cooking, hair and, skin care products. After picking the nuts, she will return home early to prepare her children for school, and thereafter will continue to work on her husband’s farm.

The case of madam Ernestina epitomises the lives of thousands of women collecting shea in the savanna parkland. This ecological zone is surrounded by some of the highest levels of poverty in the country, and so the region is important because it offers off season incomes to surrounding communities. This Northern Savannah eco-zone is a dependable off-farm resource covering about 77, 670 km2 in Ghana.

In Ghana the shea industry supports the livelihood of closely 900, 000 rural women involved in the sector (SNV, 2011). Shea collection and butter production is a way of life for most women, and it is traditionally acknowledged as “women’s gold”.

The Problem

During the shea nut season (May to July), women travel long distances into the wild to collect shea nuts freshly fallen from the trees. Collection of nuts in large quantities for local processing is laborious, time consuming, waist cracking, and very risky due to snakes and reptiles lurking in the lush grass beneath the trees. Often women are bitten by them which endangers their lives. As a result of these multiple risks, women collect less nuts than they are able to, they spend less time to prepare their children for school, and they have less time to parboil collected nuts (to soften their skin for production) leading to poor nut quality and production.

The Intervention

The Sundial Community Commerce Project is a novel socially responsible community commerce project implemented by SNV-Netherlands Development Organisation in Partnership with SFC-Savannah Fruits Company with funding from Sundial Brands Limited through The Sofi Tucker Foundation (STF). The project builds the capacity of 3000 women to collectively produced 670,000kg of hand craft shea butter amounting to $1,462,300 in sales. The project has so far benefited over 10,000 people as a result of increased incomes in homes from shea butter production.

SNV Ghana believes in the potential of the shea sector to enhance and empower the economic development, incomes, and improved livelihoods of women in Northern Ghana. Through consistent engagements with women over the past decade, SNV has introduced the “Shea Roller” as a new technology in shea nut picking in Ghana. The device generally described as “easy to fix, easy to carry, easy to use, and easy maintain”. Some women call it “a life-saver”. Other women in the nut picking industry are interested in this product however, few rollers have been produced so far. This offers an opportunity for government and the private sector to investment into rollers to ensure safe shea picking, and increased production.

Anecdotal evidences show that this technology:

  • Collects 3 times more kilograms of nuts per given time;

  • Increases the total revenue per the women;

  • Reduces the direct exposure of women to the hazards such as reptiles and snakes;

  • Reduces body pain in back and waist pains associated with shea nut collection.

SNV will continue to lobby with decentralise agencies, private companies and other women-led organisation to invest in more rollers for women in the shea industry. This will increased their participation in the shea communities, and will contribute to the increase in product production.

Woman with Roller.

Woman with Roller.

The Shea Roller Equipment is a ball-like structure with flexible silver metal.

The Shea Roller Equipment is a ball-like structure with flexible silver metal.

"Picking with my hands is very difficult now that I am old, as I am not strong to bend down. But with this roller, it is easier for me".

Ashetu Abu, Magazia of Wuntia Women Shea Group