Photo: CHF

Photo: CHF



For centuries, the women of West Africa have used shea butter as a cooking oil, as a treatment for healing cuts and bruises, and to protect from sunburn and dehydration. Today, shea butter is also becoming a sought-after ingredient in skin creams and cosmetics in places like Europe and North America.

The traditional process of making shea butter is long and arduous. Women and children harvest the fallen fruit, which contain pulp and a large pit. The pits are removed from the fruit, boiled, sun-dried and finally roasted. When the pits have been completely dehydrated, they are hand-crushed. This labourious work takes an average of 20 hours to produce just 1 kg of shea butter.

For many women in the West African country of Ghana, shea butter is produced as a source of income, as well as for use at home. Unfortunately, for most, they earn a very small amount of money for a lot of very hard work. At present, many of these women are subject to tough bargaining by traders from the capital, Accra, so are unable to get good prices for their shea butter.

CHF and its partner organization Association of Church Development Projects (ACDEP) are empowering women so they can earn a fairer income from the shea butter they produce. They are also helping women explore how to make production less demanding.

CHF’s Household Food Security Project has helped 24 women’s groups in three Ghanaian communities set up co-operatives to negotiate fairer prices with traders. Our partner organization, ACDEP, is working with the participating groups to train them in business skills, helping them set up bank accounts and manage their own books. The women’s groups are now able to provide micro-credit loans to individual members for the purchase of shea nuts.

The project is also helping the women standardize their product. For example, with proper storage for the butter, it’s less likely to go rancid. The amount of shea butter produced is also becoming standardized, so traders are guaranteed adequate quantities of butter from the women.

According to David Rhody, CHF Program Manager for West Africa, “Thanks to the project, the 500 women we work with now have a more reliable income at a fairer return for their efforts. As they earn more money, they can begin to expand their businesses.

These women’s groups can, for example, buy a grinding mill locally, instead of paying to have the shea nuts ground in the regional capital, Wa, or spending hours and hours doing it themselves. With the extra money they save and earn, they can pay for things like school fees for their children, or medication should anyone in the family get sick.”

Recently, CHF did an analysis of how marketing of shea butter could be improved for the women in Ghana. It discovered potential for exporting shea butter to places like Europe and North America, where it is used as an ingredient in chocolate and confectionery, in cosmetics and skin creams, and even as a natural food ingredient thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties.

Most exciting for the women in Ghana is that demand for the traditionally extracted butter is growing at a rapid rate. That’s because the traditional process retains the healing and hydrating properties of the butter.

This bodes well for the women in Ghana. By becoming better organized and producing consistent quality, they’ll be better able to take advantage of the increasing demand for traditional shea butter. In the future, they might end up exporting to countries like Canada, reaping even greater benefits for themselves and their communities in Ghana.