All Articles Tagged "shea butter economy"
By H. Fields Grenée
Shea Butter is coveted by global cosmetic companies for its amazing moisturizing properties. As an increasingly sought after ingredient in everything from soothing and nourishing hair and skin care products to lip balms and exfoliating creams – the benefits of shea butter are in high demand across the globe.
The connotation of shea butter however is drastically different among the women of sub-Saharan Africa who harvest the nut of the Karite tree, from which shea butter originates. They are among the 1.2 billion people that live in extreme poverty. That equals one out of every five people on the planet living on less than a dollar a day.
To them shea butter is deemed as “Women’s Gold” for the few extra dollars its yield affords. For in this region it is the women who manually collect, sort, crush, roast, grind, separate the oils from the butter and shape the finished product. It’s all done during the scorching late spring early summer arid heat of the savanna. All done with the majority sold at “so-called” fair trade prices.
The contradictions of distribution
Processing of shea nuts often takes place within local cooperatives where between 100 to 800 women work every season. Cooperatives are mainly operated by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or are small local businesses. The women employed via the cooperative either sell the nuts they collected from the communal lands where the Karite Tree grows or they process them into unrefined shea butter. It takes three kilos of shea nuts to create one kilo of shea butter (1kg equals 2.2 pounds).
Shea processing takes two routes. The raw nuts are sold to Asian oil companies in bulk who extract, refine and sell the oil to Europe for cosmetic purposes. Whereas unrefined shea butter is locally processed, certified organic, graded for purity then pushed onto the world market by upper level distributors. In both scenarios a hefty markup is added with none of the profits trickle down.
“Poverty pimps, that’s all many NGOs really are,” stated Dr. Samuel Hunter of the American Shea Butter Institute. “They claim that they are in the villages to help the people when in actuality their application of fair trade versus a living wage is often the biggest enabler of poverty for the women throughout this region.”
The money generated from shea butter production is desperately needed. It pays for food, clothing, child school fees and the like; therefore fair trade compensation equates survival. But have no doubt, the women recognize based on its many uses throughout the generations that shea butter is a precious substance. They, as Dr. Hunter stressed just lack the resources to produce a superior product on their own that can be traded on the world market.