Findings of a recent study have raised questions about the economic potential of shea to lift rural women out of poverty. Contrary to the often romanticized accounts of shea and economicallyempowered women, findings of the study point
to a trade that is hardly equitable, trade in which the rural woman, for all the time and labour she invests to garner and process shea fruits for the local market and for export, makes very minimal earnings.
Dr. Martha Awo, research fellow of ISSER revealed this during a presentation at a dissemination workshop held in Tamale on 19 May 2015. Her presentation titled “Shea in Ghana: understanding the opportunities, challenges and the implications of engaging shea producers in global value chains” is based on the project Value Chains, Peasants' Autonomy and Capture in Times of Increasing integration of Global Food Markets.
The project, started in 2012 with funding from the Volkswagen Foundation, aims at studying the value chains of three cash crops (shea, mango and cashew) in the Upper West, Upper East and Northern regions of Ghana. Project lead investigator is Dr. Martha Awo; she is supported by Dr. Wolfram Laube of the Center for Development Research, University of Bonn, Germany and Prof. Niels Folds of Copenhagen University. This report presents key findings and recommendations that emerged from the shea component of the project.
A summary of key findings, the details of which will be synthesized into useful documents for relevant actors, include the following:
- Processing activities are dominated by an aged population, with no education or low levels of education.
- The sector is saddled with an unregulated and fragmented market structure; activities are uncoordinated and very much left at the mercy of private international buyers and their network of agents.
- The improved economic condition the shea sector is reported to be enjoying is not trickling down well enough to impact the local processor in any significant manner. For all the time and labour the rural woman of Northern Ghana puts in to garner and prepare shea for the market and for export, she makes very minimal earnings.
- Local confectionary industries must lead the way with the production of shea butter-based chocolates.This will inspire similar use of the material on international markets, and thereby increase demand.
- Shea producing countries in West Africa should work together to develop policies and standards.Policies and standards, in terms of price, units of measure, for instance, will help regulate activities along the various stages of the value chain.
- Local authorities must work to safeguard shea trees from bush fires, and indiscriminate infrastructural developments.
Other researchers who made presentations at the workshop included Dr. J.A. Yidana, of the University for Development Studies (UDS). Dr. Yidana presenting on the topic “Propagation of Shea Trees” said that apart from natural regeneration, several techniques exist to make possible a deliberate, even commercial, propagation of shea trees – these include sowing of seeds, air layering (marcotting), rooting cuttings, grafting and micro-propagation.