Safeguarding the livelihoods of Ghana’s rural female shea nut producers

Unlike cocoa, shea is the only internationally traded cash crop from Africa’s shea belt that rural women still hold the indigenous processing expertise in.

Rational hand crushing of shea nuts to process shea butter

These ancient skills are thought to span centuries and there is evidence to suggest that shea was traded along the Nile, across Sudan to markets in ancient Egypt over 5,000 years ago. Before the advent of industrial edible oils on the Africa continent, shea butter was the main source of oil for African cuisines, beauty products and a host of other health uses.

Fast forward to the 21st century and demand for this African staple is attracting global appeal. According to a document called the ‘Natural Resource Product Analysis – Shea Roadmap’, shea has a market value of $500,000 million with global annual production estimated at around 600,000 million tons (MT). Top import markets include North America, Europe and Japan.

Despite being highly sought after, primary producers face a series of challenges in ensuring this global product meets international standards because they are not ideally equipped to deal with the increasing demand. In this blog post, Habib Haruna, ceo of Tamale-based NGO Pure Trust Social Investors Foundation (PTSIF) in Ghana outlines the importance of the nut, the challenges that producers are facing on the continent and how you can help.

Highly prized

Shea nuts are gathered from west and east African forests along a 4 million km2 stretch known as the shea belt. Burkina Faso is the top shea exporter at 125,000 MT and the second highest producer after Nigeria, which harvests 170,700MT, according to ‘Natural Resource Product Analysis – Shea Roadmap’. Although Ghana is the fourth largest producer (94,000MT) and exporter (75,000MT), her nuts are considered to be of higher quality due to higher stearin levels and lower free fatty acids (FFA) content.

Traditional drying process that can contaminate the nuts and butter

The difference is linked to the way shea is processed in Ghana. Women boil the nuts and use a sun-drying method that has been passed on from generation to generation, while in other countries, the nuts are smoked.

With there being only a few local industrial processing plants in the West African region, the bulk of local processing is carried out by rural women through handcrafted processing techniques or in some cases, machine-aided procedures. Unlike cocoa, shea is the only internationally traded cash crop from the shea belt of Africa that rural women have indigenous skills in.

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A mass of handcrafted shea butter produced using ancient skills by rural women

But with insufficient processing facilities in Ghana able to meet with global demand, primary producers are being encouraged to sell the unprocessed nut to international processors to make a living. As a result, large volumes of these unprocessed kernels are being shipped out of African countries to large industrial factories in Europe and India, mainly. A processed product obviously commands a higher premium than an unprocessed one and the risk is that as this pattern continues, more shea will be produced at an industrial scale, reducing the need for rural women to be the custodians of this ancient processing skill.

The challenge

One way to safeguard these ancient skills and protect the livelihoods of these women is by training them to process shea butter and its value-added products to international standards so that they can control the distribution of the butter for export. International food standards require that shea butter has lower values of FFA of less than 1%, lower moisture content 0.05% for food grade shea, and should contain insoluble impurities of less than 0.09% to qualify as quality butter. But most rural women are not aware of these standards and end up producing shea butter that often fails the quality butter test thereby limiting their access to market from exporters.

Storage of nuts in traditional way which can increases contamination of the butter

One of the main stumbling blocks is their ability to access the right equipment. When processing shea butter, stainless steel ensures that processors are able to meet international standards. However, stainless steel is expensive. In some cases, rural women are having to opt for mild steel containers as their only alternative, but these containers can promote mould growth and increase FFA levels, which are linked to higher carcinogens.

To address this challenge, Tamale-based PTSIF is working in conjunction with UNDP Ghana’s Climate Adaptation Livelihood Project to train 25 rural women as trainers-of-trainees (ToTs) in quality shea butter processing skills. The aim is to increase the quality of handcrafted shea butter produced in the Bole districts in the savannah region of Ghana. Through this arrangement, women in two communities will have access to stainless steel equipment and once trained, these 25 women ToTs will become the district resource persons who will train other women in their localities. In all 1,250 women will be trained in the quality shea butter processing.

Sponsor a trainee

Traditional hand kneading of shea butter extraction process

It costs the Foundation Ghana cedis (GHc) 350 or US$70 to train each of the 25 trainees in quality shea butter processing skills over three days. The total cost for the three-day training is GHc 8,750 or US$1,750. We therefore seek your support to donate funds to the Foundation to help fund this skill building initiative.

To make a donation, simply visit the link: Givingway – Pure Trust Social Investors Foundation

How to Donate

You can donate by bank or mobile money.

  • Bank: Zenith Bank Ghana Ltd, Tamale Branch
  • Account name: Pure Trust Social Investors Foundation
  • Account number: 60 111 076 21.
  • BICC/Swift code: ZEBLGHAC.
  • Country: Ghana.

You can donate through Wave or World Remit to the MTN Mobile Money number of the CEO of the Foundation. Name: Habib Haruna. Mobile Money Number +233 243 712077. If you use this option, send an SMS to +233(0)243712077/+233(0)507112835 or notify the organisation or send an email to hhabib2010@gmail.com

Background on the Foundation

PTSIF is an active national advocacy, social services and livelihood organisation based in Tamale Ghana. It works to provide opportunity for equal participation in the economic and social opportunity spaces in Ghana in a gender sensitive and inclusive manner.

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Habib Haruna

Its mission is to promote the economic security and social inclusion of the disadvantaged in Ghana through cooperation. PTSIF is a member of a number of networks including, Shea Network Ghana (SNG), Global Shea Alliance (GSA), Ghana Coalition of NGOs in Health, Northern Network for Education Development (NNED).

For more posts like this, visit:

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