New sustainability plan to guide shea industry's continued growth

Tuesday, December 25 2012

Megan Guidrey, Global Shea Alliance

For millennia, shea trees have grown across West Africa and the sheanuts they produce have been central to life. But development in rural communities, global climate change and the spread of commercial agriculture pose threats to the trees that the industry is now discussing intently, a dialogue facilitated by the Global Shea Alliance.

Shea sustainability extends beyond the trees. The dialogue, which is centered on an industry sustainability plan, is also addressing the prices paid to women for their sheanuts and the quality of sheanuts.

Read and comment on the Global Shea Alliance’s Shea Sustainability Plan here. The draft will be presented at Shea 2013: Global Perspectives, March 4-6, 2013, in Abuja, Nigeria. Register here today.

“Millions of women are involved in the shea industry and ultimately they carry it, literally, on their backs,” said Eugenia Akuete, president of the Global Shea Alliance. “Their livelihoods are at the heart of this strategy. When we can be sure that shea is beneficial to rural African women, the rest of the pieces will fall into place - because without them, there is no shea industry."

The entire shea industry will focus on the sustainability issues at the industry’s sixth annual conference in Abuja, Nigeria, March 4-6, 2013. Already more than 150 people from across West Africa and around the world have registered for the event, which is expected to be the largest ever shea industry event in Africa.

“The issues affecting sustainability are increasingly urgent,” said Laure Helene-Boudier, the Alliance’s sustainability specialist. “The loss of shea trees is one issue, quality is another and the livelihoods of the millions of women who collect sheanuts is of course paramount.”

The importance of shea can hardly be overstated in areas where the trees grow in West Africa – one of Ghana’s most important northern cities, Tamale, actually means “place of shea.”

“We have not been able to commercially domesticate shea trees,” said Senyo Kpelly of Sekaf Ghana Limited, which is based in Tamale. Kpelly has worked in the industry for almost two decades.

“So, we rely on natural regeneration,” he continued. “But as development expands, people are cutting shea trees to clear land. It’s not a big issue now, but the questions are becoming important: How big will a town be? And how much land should commercial agriculture involve?”

As shea exports have dramatically expanded over the last decade, a rush to buy sheanuts has led to declines in quality, too, he said.

“Buyers were basically buying every sheanut they could find in villages – and offering the same price regardless of quality,” he said. “So, there was no price differential to encourage quality.”

Earlier this year, the Global Shea Alliance launched its Shea Quality Improvement Program to address exactly that issue. More than 6,000 women in northern Ghana and more than 1,000 in northern Benin participated in workshops on handling and storing sheanuts.

With quality standards also being developed by the Alliance, the hope is that women will have greater power to negotiate for higher prices based on quality.

Excellence. Integrity. Markets. Following this motto, the Global Shea Alliance is developing quality standards that will build a strong, fair and reputable shea industry for the benefit of rural African women in the 21st century.

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