Burkina Faso: Fair Trade Benefits the Women who Produce Shea Butter

To Burkinans, the shea tree is like a golden goose: its butter is the sole source of income earned exclusively by West African women.  These women pick shea nuts and turn them into the butter so prized by the Western world. Only a small portion of the stock is sold on the local market; the rest is exported to the cosmetics industry in France and Canada. Why? Because for one kilo of butter sold locally, the women receive the equivalent of 60 cents; meanwhile, the same quantity sold elsewhere brings in twice, and even three times that amount on the fair-trade market!

When we consider that the production of a single kilo of butter requires more than 22 different steps and six hours of hard labor, the support of Northern consuvillage22mers is clearly crucial to the producers’ profits and to the improvement in their quality of life, says Abou Tagnan, manager of the Sissili-Ziro coop. “On the local market, it might take a full day for a producer to sell one kilo of butter. Through the Coop, she receives a decent income, which allows her to turn her attention to earning money through other means, such as selling vegetables or grains,” Tagnan points out. Until now, during the rainy season – a difficult period between harvests, when stocks run out and sicknesses run rampant – producers anxious to buy medicine for malaria would be forced to sell their butter at ridiculously low prices.

Fair-trade certification has increased the minimum guaranteed per-kilo price, and those profits go directly into the pockets of the producers. “The minimum price has risen from 500 CFA francs ($1.15) for conventional butter to 1,198 CFA francs ($2.80) for fair-trade butter. A Northern consumer who purchases fair-trade butter is giving the producers’ children a chance to go to school, eat at least one meal per day, and receive medical care. Furthermore, a 30-cent premium on each kilo sold is paid to the UGPPK for social purposes,” says the Coop’s manager. For example, the 2005-2006 fair-trade premium enabled the purchase of school supplies for orphans of HIV/AIDS and the opening of two literacy centers.

Dagara women in Burkina Faso are doing what generations before them have done -- taking nuts from the shea tree and extracting the rich, silky oil long known for its healing qualities.  In this small WestAfrican nation, fragile soiI village3and an unequal distribution of income, about 90 percent of the population engages in subsistence farming.  Dagara women are hoping that the Dagara Shea Butter project will change their lives and help them build a sustainable income.

In West Africa, shea butter is referred to women's gold.  The rich soil from the shea nut is revered for it's healing qualities, which include use an an anti-wrinkle cream, lip balm, stretch mark ointment, diaper rash cream, ointment for radiation and other burns, acne, excema, psoriasis, & dermatitis among many other applications. 

Rural women have been gathering the shea nuts since the 14th century.  The Karite tree grows wild in the wooded Savannahs in West Africa -- Ghana, Mali and Burkina Faso.  It takes 15 years before the tree bears it's first fruit.  Reaches full production at age of 25-50.  The edible fruit are the size of large plums.  ONE tree produces 44 pounds of fresh fruit which is handmade into 2 pounds of shea butter.  Karite translates into shea in English and it is because of its unique healing properties that it is known as the tree of life.

Shea is used for cooking as well as hair and skin care by the Dagara people.  Shea nuts are an important ingredient in the  manufacturing of chocolate in Europe. In North America it is known primarily for use in skincare.


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