Sunday, September 28, 2008

Shea Butter: Empowering the People behind the Product

You probably know the product: Shea Butter is an important ingredient in many soaps, lotions, creams cosmetics, and even chocolates produced and sold in the U.S. But did you know that all the world’s Shea Butter comes from the Sub-Sahara African Shea Nut? And for most African families the Shea Nut represents generational tradition, household utility, and an important source of revenue.

Market Opportunities. This is no less true today: by some accounts Shea Butter production is considered to be a more important source of household revenue for certain families of Northern Bénin than even the “cash-crop” of cotton. Yet today the benefits and veritable utility of Shea Butter are now well-known beyond the borders of Bénin and West Africa, such that Shea Butter has become a very profitable commodity, both within Bénin and especially in export markets. ­­­­

Even while such market expansion is taking place, the fundamental activities involved in making Shea Butter in West Africa—that is, the gathering of Shea Nuts (from the Karité or Shea Tree) and the production of the butter itself— are still mostly performed by women across this region, and using traditional manual methods. This combination of market profitability and rural production realities presents a unique opportunity of income generation to women’s groups across West Africa, and by extension a significant opportunity to increase the household revenues for the many families being supported by such women’s Shea Butter-Producing Women’s Groups (Groupements).

Market Barriers. While such Groupement women and families have much to gain from an increasingly profitable Shea industry, this opportunity is not without a formidable challenge: How are traditional women’s groups to successfully access and participate in such modern markets in a way that is profitable and sustainable? This is the grand challenge posed to the Shea Groupements of Nikki, Bénin. Despite their rich and long tradition of Shea Butter production, several factors make it difficult for many women in Nikki to profit from evolving Shea Butter markets.

Market Empowerment. In the last year’s experience of working with local Shea groupements, I and local Béninese NGO L’Enfant Epanoui Bénin have seen these obstacles first-hand. To put this particular experience to constructive use, we have decided to launch a project that will empower 15 Nikki groupements to adopt structures, skills, and strategies for successfully addressing these market barriers.

This project will take the form of a series of conferences, workshops, training events, evaluations, and publicity activities held for these 15 groupements, likely representing at least 300 women and their households. You can link here to read more about the background and five particular project objectives, which include thorough quality control training, the formation and official government registration of an operational Nikki Shea Butter Association, and the identification of a business partner for this association, most likely some type of buyer-lender.

How You Can Help Empower the People Behind the Product…

To initiate and realize this project we must raise $4,500.00 in funding, an amount which complements a sizeable project contribution already offered by the community of Nikki. We would like to see this money raised by the end of the year: this project’s success largely depends on the active participation of many rural women and as such should be launched well before the rainy season begins next year, the arrival of which immediately occupies any free time in Northern Beninese households.

You can very easily make a contribution by following this link to a secure Peace Corps webpage that has been set up for donations to this particular project. All contributions satisfy direct project needs, and none of them are spent on administrative fees, per diem, etc. of those mounting and managing the project.

I will be posting further info and updates on this project, so please check back soon!