SeKaf Shea Butter Village. Local women are keepers of this traditional African craft.

SeKaf Shea Butter Village

SeKaf discovered many problems when it began to concentrate on the shea industry, most of which are related to the effects on women shea pickers and shea butter producers from various inefficient industrial practices. Shea is commonly acknowledged as a women’s business, particularly for rural women, because shea trees are mostly grown in the bush. Picking shea fruits is a physically demanding activity that require village women to walk under the sun to find fruiting shea trees and carry heavy loads on their heads, all the while being cautious of snakes that are crawling in the tall grass. Despite the hard work, properly processed shea nuts are commercially profitable due to a growing demand from the international food and cosmetic industries. As a social enterprise located near many poor villages that are situated on hectares of shea trees, SeKaf was determined to identify problems and solutions to improve inefficient practices so rural women and SeKaf can mutually benefit from nature’s bounty.

In 2006, SeKaf identified Kasalgu – a village 6 km from Tamale’s town center – as the ideal location for the first SeKaf Shea Butter Village, which was envisioned as a central location for the surrounding villages’ women to assemble and process premium quality shea butter in a controlled environment. To establish the SeKaf Shea Butter Village, SeKaf formed a partnership with Kasalgu and surrounding villages by presenting a series of social innovations and commitments to develop the village socially and economically.

The SeKaf Shea Butter Village was inaugurated in August 2008. The company collaborates closely with the SeKaf Shea Butter Village’s women’s cooperative and currently buys shea nuts and shea butter from approximately 2,500 women.

Our Solutions

In 2006, SeKaf identified several important problems and designed a set of creative and sustainable solutions to improve inefficient practices for shea picking and processing women from Kasalgu and surrounding villages.

Issue #1: Poor and inconsistent shea butter quality leads to market uncompetitiveness
Women were processing shea butter in their individual homes based on common techniques rather than tested best practices. While this would have been sufficient for domestic use, much of this shea butter was uncompetitive in the markets because of the poor or inconsistent quality.

Solution #1 – Providing a central processing location with a controlled environment & training on best practices

The women were producing poor yield and inconsistent shea butter quality because they were not trained on best practices that could yield the maximum amount of shea butter with a small percentage of free fatty acid (FFA) and peroxide value (PV). To address this issue, SeKaf created a central location – the SeKaf Shea Butter Village in Kasalgu – where the women from neighboring villages could assemble and process shea butter in a controlled environment and under supervision. SeKaf also produced two short tutorial videos in English and Dagbani (the local dialect) for the women on best practices for processing shea nuts and shea butter. It was estimated that the extraction rate of shea butter from shea kernels improved from 26% to 38% and according to an independent test by the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, the butter also had a lower FFA and PV.  By training the women on best practices and encouraging the women to produce shea butter in a controlled environment with a clean facility, the improved shea butter became competitive in the market.

Issue #2 – No bargaining power leads to low prices
Women were selling their shea butter individually and were therefore competing against each other at the local markets. Also, many were unaware they were selling at a lost because they did not know how to calculate their cost of production.

Solution #2 – Forming a cooperative & learning basic cost of production calculations

When SeKaf presented this business partnership idea to the villages, it agreed to provide financial support to the women along with technical support. SeKaf noted the women had no bargaining power because they were trading their shea butter independently. They also did not have any financial education so many women were unknowingly selling their product at a lost.

To address these issues, Sekaf encouraged the women to form a cooperative with a literate secretariat. SeKaf also trained the women to use simple formulas such as the fair-price calculator to calculate their cost of production. By unifying the women into a cooperative and providing basic training on how to do costing for business activities, they were in a much better position to negotiate for better selling prices.

Issue #3 – No guaranteed buyer leads to unstable earnings
It was difficult for the women to decide how much shea butter to produce without a guaranteed buyer. Non-pickers needed to buy shea nuts, which required financial capital. If they invested in the cost of production and were unable to sell at a profitable rate, the women suffer. Similarly for shea pickers, all their hard work of harvesting and processing shea nuts would be lost if they were unable to secure buyers for their shea butter.

Solution #3 – A business partnership means a guaranteed buyer and interest free loan provider

The women were unable to attract buyers when their shea butter quality was poor, but that was no longer a problem after they received training on quality improvement. Since SeKaf exports bulk shea butter to international cosmetic companies and needs the shea butter for its own bath and beauty product line, SeKaf promised the women to be their guaranteed buyer who would pay a 15% premium above the calculated market price per kg.

SeKaf finances the Shea Butter Village women processors with interest free loans to buy raw shea nuts to process shea butter, which are tracked by the cooperative’s secretariat. Each loan recipient would then sell the shea butter to SeKaf based on the price from the now-familiar fair-price calculator minus the cost of the interest free loan. The underlying importance is that the women could always rely on SeKaf as their guaranteed buyer or loam provider. This business partnership resulted in a continued supply of premium quality of unrefined shea butter for SeKaf and a sustainable income for the village women.

Since its inauguration in 2008, SeKaf Shea Butter Village has received hundreds of visitors – from women’s cooperatives to shea industry giants. Many came to learn about our model and as a result, similar shea butter villages are being built in other parts of northern Ghana and Nigeria. In a way, it has become a showcase for the shea industry. Not only does it create a central location for women from surrounding villages to socialize while processing shea kernels and shea butter, it also guarantees the company will deliver premium quality unrefined shea butter because it is processed in a clean and controlled environment by trained women and are constantly supervised for quality assurance.

The SeKaf Shea Butter Village often serves as a classroom for visitors to demonstrate best practices for shea butter processing and as a backdrop for tutorial videos and photographs for our clients. SeKaf has provided consultancies for quality improvement on shea kernel and shea butter processing to:

  • Star Shea Network (PlaNet Finance and SAP)
  • Ghana Youth Employment Program
  • GIZ in Nigeria
  • Niger State Export Commodity Promotion Council, Nigeria
  • Nigerian Export Promotion Council, Nigeria