Empowering women in Burkina Faso’s shea sector

13 March 2015
ITC News

ITC helps develop strategy to fortify the role of women in Burkina Faso’s shea sector

Can the humbleshea nut help empower women economically? It can, at least in Burkina Faso where the government is working with the International Trade Centre (ITC) to scale up the role the shea nut plays for the empowerment of women in the country.

Not only is Burkina Faso the biggest producer, consumer and exporter of shea-nut in West Africa, it is also the main source of income – directly or indirectly – for half a million people. The shea sector has seen remarkable growth in the past five years and today provides for nearly 200,000 seasonal and permanent jobs in production, processing, distribution and in retail. While women account for around 90% of those associated with the shea sector, the economic role of women is not widely recognized.

The tree itself is of great environmental importance, and is protected under the national forestry code. Shea butter is, of course, well known on international markets, but in Burkina Faso, all parts of the tree are used: the leaves, the bark, and the roots are used for traditional medicine. The flowers and pulp are eaten, and the nut is used to make shea butter. No wonder, then, that the shea tree is often described as the ‘green gold of women’.

Since January 2014 ITC has been working with Burkina Faso’s Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Handicrafts to develop a sector strategy for shea sector. Scheduled to be unveiled in April, the strategy sets out to help build a more competitive and sustainable sector to contribute to further to Burkina Faso’s economic growth.

Shea being a sector that cuts across industries and policies, a host of other ministries have been consulted in the design of the strategy, including the Ministry of Gender, the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development and the Ministry of Scientific Research. And extensive consultations have been held with private sector stakeholders, women’s cooperatives, associations and individual companies, as well as representatives of multinational companies.

So far the strategy has identified several constraints that are preventing the sector from fulfilling its potential. For example, deforestation, and more importantly, that collectors – mainly women – have to travel much farther to collect the shea nuts to meet higher production needs. Another problem women in the shea sector face is access to finance to develop their businesses, and inadequate resources and training to build their skills.

Professionalizing women’s organizations

In response to this, the strategy looks at and provides recommendations on how to professionalize women’s involvement in the sector and as such ensure that greater value is attributed to their work. This again helps build their self-confidence and dignity. It also suggests better awareness building around the skills needed in the collection of shea nuts, which is crucial to the quality of the value-added products such as shea butter.

The strategy also looks at the longer-term objectives of the shea sector, of which the main goal to gradually increase the value-added transformation of the nut in Burkina Faso. However, since industrialization can come at the cost of women’s participation in a sector, the strategy insists on the need to strengthen women’s cooperatives.

In fact, simple efforts such as increasing women’s ability to mobilize new members and improving their marketing capacities in order to ensure that women continues to be driving force in the shea sector. However, to safeguard women’s role at all levels in the shea value chain so that Burkina Faso can enjoy the potential that lies in the sector, continued political engagement and commitment will be needed. The strategy will provide a compass for fulfilling those goals.

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