The shea nuts industry’s value chain continues to be an economic driver for a lot of rural women farmers’ resident in the northern sector as the commodity serves as employment generation, industrial development and growth of the national economy.
It is estimated that annual earnings from the sector currently stands at US$175 million, comprising export revenues from the raw nuts and processed butter.
Critics have observed that the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), which has the mandate to direct and implement policies for the growth of the industry has neglected the sector for cocoa.
They expressed worry about that the lack of clear-cut policies to develop the industry, which has resulted in the sheanut trees being currently cut down and burnt for charcoal and other farming activities in certain communities within the three northern regions.
Such development has negatively affected the industry since sheanut trees grow naturally and not through human effort.
Until recently, shea nut farmers in the three regions were not benefiting from any floor price as pertains in the cocoa industry.
The National Association of Shea Nut Farmers, Processors and Buyers complained about floor low price decided and announced by the COCOBOD for the produce as part of the government’s efforts at improving the lot of the pickers and farmers, as well as develop a profitable shea nut industry.
The price offered was far lower than the prevailing open market price and that did not augur well for the players in the industry.
Government in its effort to assist and promote the industry inaugurated a 15-member National Steering Committee on shea in 2011, the establishment of the Shea Butter Processing Factory in Buipe and the fixing of the floor price for every 80 kilogramme bag of shea nuts at GH¢32 at the farm gate.
In 2010, government inaugurated a shea butter processing factory aimed at creating jobs and offering easy market access to the farm produce as well as improve livelihood to the rural dwellers.
But since that time, there has not been any concrete steps taken by authorities to develop the industry. But for almost two years since the aforementioned policies were put in place by government, the shea industry is still not growing as fast as actors along the value chain would wish it to be.
It is estimated that about 9.4 million shea trees are in the country, and these can potentially yield one hundred tonnes of shea nuts worth about US$100 million per year.
According to a USAID Report prepared in November 2004 for West Africa Trade Hub (WATH) Ghana has an estimated minimum total annual production potential of 200,000 tonnes of sheanut.
The Report puts the production level at 130,000 tonnes out of which 70,000 tonnes was being consumed locally and the remaining 60,000 tonnes exported.
Of the quantity exported, 45,000 tonnes was in the form of shea kernel, while 15,000 tonnes was in the form of shea-butter. The Report states further that the country’s shea kernel has a high content of shea butter.
The sheanut industry has a long history to the contribution of the country’s agriculture sector. The crop grows extensively in the Guinea savannahwhich occupies more than half of the country’s total landmass of 2,385,100 square kilometres.
It can be found in Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions of the country covering landmass of about 77,670 square kilometers.
A few sheanut trees are also found in the Brong-Ahafo, Ashanti, Eastern and Volta regions in the southern parts of the country.
Globally, there is a high demand for by-products of sheanut due to its medicinal, cosmetic and nutritional values.
Shea butter has been found to have a fat composition similar to cocoa butter, and is used as a substitute for lard or margarine because it makes a highly, pliable dough.
Shea butter is also used in making soap and candles, and it is added in margarine formulations. After the oil is extracted, the residue serves as excellent fuel, which can also be mixed with mud for plastering traditional mud huts.