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    Success through Shea


    International Trade Forum - Issue 3-4/2008 

    © ITC Shea Nut

    By producing and exporting shea butter to The Body Shop, an enterprising collective in northern Ghana is improving conditions for women and their communities. An ITC initiative in Mali shows similar potential through government strategy.

    The women of western Africa have been using shea nut butter for centuries to protect their skin from dry Saharan winds. Through innovative enterprise, it's now protecting them in other ways, too.

    Since 1994, a group of women in northern Ghana has been supplying shea butter to The Body Shop, as part of the company's community trade initiative. The profits from this relatively new export market are providing hope in a country where 43% of the population live below the international poverty line.

    Profits to help communities prosper

    The Tungteiya Shea Butter Association now provides a living for more than 400 women in 11 villages in the Tamale region of northern Ghana. The women earn independence and self-respect; their communities earn valuable resources. The women have directed their profits into water pipes and wells for their villages. They have provided better housing conditions and sanitation for their families, and have more money to spend on nutritious food. Medical care has improved, with three new medical centres founded on Tungteiya's earnings. They have built ten nursery schools and continue to provide funds for teachers and learning materials. What's more, they are able to give their children, particularly their daughters, the invaluable opportunity to attend secondary school. Tungteiya also offers its members basic business courses to improve their entrepreneurial skills.

    The women involved say that these developments have earned them renewed respect for their work from the men in their communities. This is promising news in a country that ranks as low as 77th out of 130 on the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index.

    While this increase in respect is a huge development, Ghanaian women understand that the breakdown of deeply-rooted gender stereotypes is a process that will take time. By producing shea butter in their local communities, women are able to carry out their traditional domestic roles such as caring for children and sustaining the family. Many of the women say that by providing education for their daughters and sons, they hope that their work will affect the situation for future generations.

    By sourcing products directly from producers in developing countries, the community trade initiative ensures a fair price for manufacturers. But the benefits also reach the developed world. The initiative has helped The Body Shop to expand its market and attract international attention, thereby providing an effective model for corporations to invest in ethical trade partnerships.

    A similar programme in Mali, supported by ITC, is also demonstrating the potential for export to improve the situation of women in developing countries. Shea butter production is the focus of one of several programmes recently implemented by ITC to assist women in Mali in developing their entrepreneurial skills and incomes.

    Support at the national level

    Community groups, associations and strong corporate linkages, like those described, can produce valuable results. But to ensure long-term sustainability and widespread economic growth in the sector, changes must be made to enabling the capabilities of environment and support organizations at a national scale.

    In 2005, ITC brought together stakeholders in the shea butter industry in Mali, including women's producer groups, collectors, exporters, trade and technical business support organizations (such as packaging, quality and production specialists), development banks and government agencies, to examine performance at each stage of the value chain in relation to target market options.

    As a result, the Government of Mali approved a sector export and development strategy in 2006. Development partners include the World Bank, the French and German development agencies (Agence Française de Développement and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit, respectively), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Canadian International Development Agency, the United States Agency for International Development and several international non-governmental organizations.

    By planting more acacia trees, improving cultivation and collection skills and reducing post-collection damage, the strategy has already started to expand the social and economic returns for producers in Mali. New bio-cosmetic markets have opened up in Europe and North America, and quality consistency has improved since the provision of drying equipment. Trust and transparency levels have increased between collectors, buyers and exporters, with support partnerships providing access to market news and buyer and price information. As a result, the quality of the shea butter is consistently better and there has been a gradual improvement in prices paid to producers.

    ITC is working with the sector development coordination team in Mali to continue to support social and economic development and export growth of the shea butter sector until 2010, through its work in the All ACP Agricultural Commodities Programme, funded by the European Union.