Wealth Murders Health: The Reality of Rural Women Shea Pickers in Northern Region
Women over the years have been relegated to the background, a situation that is gradually changing. Women in the Northern region have had their share of that experience. Though, the region is rated among the poorest regions in the country, government agencies and some NGOs have worked tirelessly to improve these phenomena. Notwithstanding, there is still a lot in the rural communities that needs attention. The rural woman spends 80% of her time on the farm and yet traditionally does not own economic means of production such as land. A large proportion of this vulnerable group is involved in other economic activities such as shea nuts picking and marketing. However, it is very difficult for these women to access meaningful funding to bring their businesses to a higher level. They are still glued to the income generating activities that result in meager income that cannot meet the basic needs of their families.
Shea tree is key as it has both economic and environmental impact on the lives of people, especially women in northern Ghana. The shea fruit is a source of food for families in the northern part of the country as the ripening of the fruit coincides with the lean season. The shea tree also has an untapped capacity to produce sap that can be a source of raw materials for the gum industry. Shea picking is predominantly a women affair and has for the past years been collateralized by families for agricultural farm inputs.
Women shea pickers in the region face huge challenges despite efforts by many NGOs in the sector; unorganized women groups, lack of health and safety equipment(wellington boots, gloves, nose mask etc) to prevent snake/scorpion bites, lack of tri-cycles to transport shea nuts from farms to the house leading to post-harvest losses, lack of credit from formal financial institution to expand businesses, lack of processing equipment to process shea nuts into butter, low capacities in processing quality shea nuts leading to low qualities and lack of guaranteed price for their shea nuts and above all the deteriorating health complications of manually carrying shea from farms to the house. Thus, the wealth created by the shea tree efficiently murders the health of rural women as many complained of neck and back pains. At Pion, a community on the Yendi Gushegu road, Asana, a shea picker narrates the pains she feels carrying shea on her head. "I feel back and neck pains and always take paracetamol after coming back to the house". Similar stories have been shared by residents of Sunson, Malzeri, among others.
Figure 2: Carrying Shea; check the neck of the one in white shirt!
Preventable snake and scorpion bites have become part of the lives of rural women shea pickers. The source of their wealth remains their biggest foe for survival. Realistically, the fortunate ones who escaped scorpion and snake bites; effectively purchase unexplained health related complications from back pains to neck pains and graduates to drug abuse and addiction. Next time you used shea butter; remember to say a prayer for the brave rural woman whose resilience protects your skin in the best possible way. For in Africa, we believe prayer than technology!
Economic empowerment of women through shea-nut picking is the best tool to promote the wellbeing of families and their communities in the Northern region of Ghana. Concerted efforts must be made to provide a safe picking of shea nuts by women. NGOs and government agencies must collaborate to safeguard our women and integrate technology into the shea picking activities which would effectively contribute to the sustainable development goals of no poverty, increase income, improved health and building of resilient communities for national development.
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