“Nowadays, we don’t have to stay in the factory for long hours to process our shea. It is more than satisfying to see how much we produce with less time”, says Majeed Neena, a member of one of the women shea groups supported by UNDP with new machinery to facilitate their shea processing.
In Ghana, especially in the Northern and Savannah regions, the livelihoods of many households depend on shea and its products. Over 470,000 women farmers derive economic benefits from either picking shea or processing it into shea butter. Shea butter is often referred to as women’s “gold”. Despite the great importance of shea to women, shea butter production has been largely done through manual labour-intensive processes. This does not only affect the quality of the shea products but also poses a great threat to the women’s health. It has therefore become necessary to support women shea producers to improve their production efficiency with appropriate technology.
Empowering women for sustainable livelihoods
“I used to go through the traditional method of making shea butter solely with my hands, making the process very tiring”, Majeed Neena added.
To help address the challenges the women face in the shea value chain, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been providing comprehensive support to women cooperatives in the shea landscape through various integrated programmes including the Ghana Shea Landscape Emission Reductions Project . A group of selected women were also supported through the UNDP Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme to receive Ecocert for Fair-Trade Certification to sell shea products in the international market.
In addition, these selected women received a funding support of $200,000 from the UNDP Africa Regional programme through the Assistant UN Secretary-General and Regional Director for Africa, Ms. Ahunna Eziakonwa, during her visit last year to Ghana. The support is to help the women acquire more machinery to facilitate their operations. These supports have gone a long way to help the over 3000 women in shea production in 14 communities in the Kumbungu District of the Northern Region of Ghana, who are members of Ripples Ghana, an NGO.
Today, many of the women in the shea groups are excited about the enormous benefits they are deriving from the support they have received.
“Our production capacity has increased from 75 kilograms of shea at a centre per week to 125 kilograms when we started using the new machines we received. I am now able to engage more women,” noted Hajia Rabiatu Abukari, Producer of Malti Products and Director of Ripples Ghana, a shea producing NGO in the Northern Region of Ghana.
The shea processing machinery were locally manufactured. These include crashers, kneaders, millers, roasters, washers, and grilling mills. As part of the support, the women also rehabilitated their structures to meet good local factory standards.
“We are now ageing and don’t have enough energy to crush the shea nut manually. We are grateful for this immense support”, stated Hajia Fatimata, a leader of one of the women shea producing groups at Malti Products.
Looking into the Future
Equipping women with efficient machines is indeed helping them reduce exposure to toxic smoke. This is also limiting significant wood and water consumption and increasing their productivity. Empowering other women shea producing groups will require more investments. For someone like Hajia Abukari, the vision of Ripples Ghana goes beyond shea butter production as they want to also start cashew nut production. More partnerships will help in empowering many women groups like Ripples Ghana, to contribute to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).