Shea brilliance

Shea brilliance

Outside of the farming season, scarcity of work had forced some of the women of Bolgatanga, Ghana to leave the area each year, but then shea butter gave them a reason to stay.

The Frafra are traditionally subsistence farmers, growing crops to sustain their families rather than to sell. They work small plots of land throughout the wet season and save food for the dry season; known locally as ‘the hungry season’ due to low crop yields.

Old ways become the new

In the past, women of the Upper East Region of Ghana were forced south each year by the arid conditions. The necessity of finding work often meant they were separated from their children and community.

Welcome change arrived in the form of the Ojoba Women’s Shea Cooperative, which took advantage of the karite trees that grow wildly in the local environment. The women brought skillsets passed down through generations, including the tried-and-tested method of processing shea butter by hand.

First they collect, sort and wash the nuts; picking out any blackened ones that could compromise the quality of the butter. The good nuts are then removed from their fleshy pods and boiled, before being dried under the intense heat of the African sun.

After being scrubbed clean and dried again, the nuts are fed through a simple crushing machine so only a chunky crumb remains. This crumb exposes the inner flesh, which is roasted over a smoky, open fire until it becomes almost praline-like.

At this stage, it is pressed mechanically into a liquor that resembles melted chocolate, before being whipped by hand using rhythmic, sweeping motions to form a dense layer of shea butter on top.

More than just a pay check

The cooperative provides the women with a reliable source of income all year round. Now, they can offer material as well as emotional assistance to their families, and can afford school fees and national health insurance. Through a microfinance scheme, co-operative members also have the opportunity to apply to borrow funds to set up their own businesses.

As self-improvement and ambition flourishes, the group continues to succeed, and introduce new, regenerative ventures. Recently the women celebrated the opening of their new community library; the first rural library in the Upper East Region district.

“I always feel happy and strong when I’m with my women,’ says senior co-operative member Atanpoka Abongo. “Sometimes I’ll have a problem at home that I think is too difficult, but when we’re sharing ideas I realise that I can handle it. They encourage me to face anything.”

You can watch a video of the women's journey here, and experience the Fair Trade Shea Butter they produce first hand in products such as nourishing Renee Shea Souffle hair and scalp oil. 

Featured in this Article