In 2001 WALA (Dr. Hauschka) began supporting a shea butter project in Burkina Faso. In this project, women in several villages within a protected, certified organic collecting area for shea (or karité) nuts produce raw shea butter (beurre de karité) in the traditional manner. For many families the sale of shea butter is an important source of income. WALA helps to preserve these village communities by purchasing the shea butter from the villages at above-average prices and giving long-term purchase guarantees. Through the project the villages receive financial, advisory and organisational assistance with obtaining organic certification.
Country of honourable people
Burkina Faso is in West Africa, next to the Ivory Coast and Ghana. The country used to be called Upper Volta after its three major rivers the Red Volta, Black Volta and White Volta. Its present name Burkina Faso means “Country of Honourable People” or “Country of the Incorruptible”. Located on a plateau, the country is characterised by moist savannah, bush land and semidesert. In the last few years this already poor country, dependent mainly on farming, has been heavily hit by drought. The people here on the edge of the Sahel zone can only survive with the help of plants which have adapted to the drought periods: the shea tree, for example.
Holy tree of the savannah: the shea tree
Small by the standards of its native country, the gnarled shea tree grows to a height of 10 to 15 metres and is part of the natural vegetation in a belt about 300 km wide extending from Mali through Burkina Faso to Ghana, Togo and Benin. This “shea belt” is the only place in the world where this tree thrives. The lactiferous tree with its leathery leaves does not flower until it is 20 years old and only reaches maximum productive capacity at the age of 30 years, then remaining fully productive for more than 100 years. The plum-shaped fruits, which become green when they ripen, have a diameter of up to 4 cm. The soft green outer skin is a popular food. With their fat content of up to 50% the kernels (nuts) are a sought-after and traditional source of fat for skin care and cooking in Burkina Faso. Because of its great importance, the shea tree is considered by the native population to be a holy tree and its felling is not allowed.
Women´s gold: Shea butter
Shea butter is women’s business. When the time comes round for making shea butter, also known as karité, the women assemble at a central place in their village which is specially set up for this purpose. The harvested nuts are dried and shelled, heated in a clay oven and then pounded in mortars. The resulting mass is mixed with water and beaten for about 45 minutes. The butter separates and can be skimmed off (the process is comparable to churning milk to make butter). The product is a slightly pungent smelling, whitish-yellow mass, the unrefined shea butter. The finished butter is stored in a warehouse used only for this purpose until it is shipped. Shea butter now has fans all over the world.
Shea butter for Dr.Hauschka Skin Care products
The first contact between Burkina Faso and WALA. The freelance project adviser Hermann Schopferer approached WALA, the manufacturer of the natural and organic Dr.Hauschka skin care products, suggesting a cooperation.
The idea: high-quality shea butter produced by traditional methods for high-quality skin care products. WALA was interested and agreed. Hermann Schopferer has already set up and looked after several self-help projects in Africa, particularly in Burkina Faso. He knows the country and the people and for the shea butter project he chose the more rainy, moderate south west of Burkina Faso with its good stock of shea trees, about 400 km from the capital city Ouagadougou.
Green bush and yellow clay
People stressed by the pace of modern life would at last find peace in the villages of Diarabakkoko, the project region in Burkina Faso. No electricity, no telephone, no traffic invade the peace and quiet. People here live simply from what they are able to grow themselves. Millet is one of the staple foods of their unvaried menu, meat is rare. To earn money the women and men go – on foot – to the market 15 kilometres away where they sell part of their produce or food they have cooked themselves.
Making more out of shea nuts
Harvesting shea nuts is a traditional activity of the villages in Burkina Faso. Foreign refineries have exploited the oil-rich nuts for a long time, buying them cheaply in the villages. In the shea butter project in cooperation with WALA the villages earn several times as much from their nuts by selling the shea butter they have made from the nuts themselves. Its price is seven times higher than the price for the nuts.
The women’s cooperative
Some 350 women from two villages are currently producing shea butter for WALA. The women have organised themselves in a producers’ cooperative. Shea butter was always women’s business. For the project the women have given themselves the name ‘IKEUFA’ (faire bien et meilleur de Diarabakoko) which means something like: do good and better in Diarabakoko. All positions in the cooperative, from the president through the treasurer to the secretary, are elected by the village women. “The women are traditionally very independent” says Hermann Schopferer. They have always had their own fields and earned their own money which they administer themselves. The self-assured Burkina Faso women discuss all project issues in detail with Schopferer, for example the question of how they can meet WALA’s high standards of quality and hygiene. The money earned from selling the shea butter enables the women to pay the school fees for their children amongst other things.
Shea butter from Burkina Faso: some facts
- In the initial phase in 2001 WALA supported the Shea Butter Project by financing the advisor Hermann Schopferer who visits the country several times a year, ensures the required quality standards and prepares the annual organic certification.
- In 2002 nuts were collected for WALA for the first time and used to make shea butter.
- The women were paid by WALA in advance at above-average prices. The money allowed them to purchase the necessary equipment, materials for shipping etc.
- In autumn 2002 the first consignment of shea butter was shipped to WALA.
- In 2003 the project received organic certification for the first time. The amount of shea butter produced was enough to meet WALA’s requirements in full. At the same time the organic certification, which has to be renewed annually, is carried out.
- WALA guarantees to purchase fixed amounts and provides the women with investment aid so as to secure the required quality in the long term. In 2004 funding was provided for the purchase of a grinder for processing the shea nuts.
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