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14.05.2005 Feature Article

Shea Butter – Protecting It As An Intellectual Property.

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I have just read three articles on the Internet and seem encouraged about developments going on in the country. One article is titled “Blue Mont offers initial IPO on GSE”. The other right below it is titled ”Govt. Allocates C20bn to Cowpea and Soybean Farmers”. Both were posted on April 20, 2005. The third article, “Govt. to improve on Shea Butter production soon” appeared on May 6, 2005.

Now lets take two of the commodities, Shea Butter and Soybean into consideration.

Shea butter tree grows wild in the Northern part of Ghana. According to available information, the West African region produces about 600,000 tons of nuts annually for export and processing. There is potential to pick more nuts from the ground. It has gained acceptance in Europe and Asia and is fast catching up in the USA. The EU has allowed 5% to be used as substitute for cocoa butter in Chocolates. Cocoa farms are sprayed with insecticides, which have been detected in the nuts. Shea tree is not sprayed and therefore preferred by health conscious consumers in Europe. Aarhus United, a company in Denmark has produced a Shea butter capsule branded SheaNature, to fight cholesterol. They have also obtained patents on their products. A similar case has happened in India with the Neem Tree where WR Grace Company of the USA has obtained patents to some Neem tree products. The Indian farmers and government are up in arms with them. Ref: The other article states that farmers in the North are being encouraged to obtain loans from an available fund of 20 billion cedis to cultivate cowpeas and soybeans. Meanwhile Blue Mont wants to build warehouses and expand on its business with funds of 22 billion cedis.

I have read about the proliferation of genetically modified seeds in our foods but one article that aroused my interest was published in the New York Times magazine on Oct. 25, 1998 entitled “Playing God in the Garden”. Soybean is genetically modified and the farmers may have to buy the seeds every planting season as compared to Shea nuts that's available for picking every season. The tree can last for 200 years bearing nuts. Shea butter is unique to Africa. While it has been exported to Europe for a long time, its use in the country has not been promoted. It is one of the best edible oils. But I can tell you that we would rather pay premium price for olive oil or any imported oil than use Shea butter. One of our biggest problems is that we do not consume what is readily available to us. We are also looking to market our products outside the continent without preparation. Palm oil is another oil that has been given a bad name. Lever Brothers used to import it from Malaysia (the largest producer and exporter in the world) as Frytol.

As of now nobody knows the effects these biotech oils have on humans. They are new and as we know in America, by the time it is withdrawn from the market, harm might have been caused. We don't know the effect of these plants on our soil and environment.

I'd rather we concentrate on Shea Butter and Palm Oil and improve on harvesting methods as well as post harvest processing of nuts into butter, reducing odor, preservation from rancidity and marketing of the product. Also since the Government is undertaking research on production, it should patent its findings or else it will find itself on a collision course with the same companies that are buying the nuts from our farmers as is happening in India. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Isaac Kusi
Isaac Kusi, © 2005

The author has 15 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: IsaacKusi

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