The shea butter tree's untapped riches
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CTA. 1991. The shea butter tree's untapped riches. Spore 32. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/45467
The shea butter tree grows throughout savanna areas of West Africa and is prized for the oil extracted from its nuts, and for the sale of the nuts themselves. Unfortunately, processing and marketing difficulties mean that only 40% of the produce is...
The shea butter tree grows throughout savanna areas of West Africa and is prized for the oil extracted from its nuts, and for the sale of the nuts themselves. Unfortunately, processing and marketing difficulties mean that only 40% of the produce is used profitably. The shea butter tree (Butyrospermum parkii) grows in the semi-arid zone from the east of Senegal to the south of Chad, and is found mainly in Mali and Burkina Faso and in northern parts of Cote d'lvoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria. It is a small tree with a short trunk and dark green leaves, but its fruit has amazing potential. The population density may be around 50 to 60 trees per hectare in remote areas, but this decreases sharply in populated districts. The fruit is picked up from the ground by women who extract a high-quality pure oil by grinding the nuts with a pestle and mortar. With this they make the prized shea butter, which is much sought after throughout Africa, either for their own consumption or for sale at markets. When the harvest is plentiful the women contract to sell the nuts or the butter to traders, and this is often their only source of ready cash. Indeed, Olivier Krugg, who has made a study of the shea butter tree for the Centre d'Echange et Promotion des Artisans en Zones a Equiper (CEPAZE) in Mali, says: 'The shea butter tree provides more than half the income of village women in these areas.' Shea butter is not only used widely in cooking: it also has cosmetic and pharmacological uses in treating colds and sprains, promoting the healing of wounds, and as a beauty product. Its by-products are also useful: the pulp and the shell make a waterproof material used on the walls of huts, farmers spread them as fertilizer, or burn them as fuel. A multi-purpose tree Shea butter also has industrial value in the North: it can be used as a cocoa butter substitute, for coating in chocolate manufacture, and in the cosmetic industry. It has highly desirable softness and smoothness, and pharmacologists recognize its healing and protective powers for the skin. Despite this multiplicity of potential uses, around 60% of the harvest rots in the bush, according to the experts, mainly as a result of several factors which hamper processing and commercial exploitation. Bernard Clamagirand, Director of CEPAZE, who has been working for some years on small-scale centrifugal processing machinery, says 'Shea butter nut is extremely difficult to process. The nuts contain a gummy substance which clogs the sieves and and other parts of the machine.' The latest processing machine, the Mockarite, is still at the experimental stage but looks promising. Small or large-scale production? Similar problems are encountered on an industrial scale in the processing plants of Mali, Burkina Faso and Benin. The presses will clog in exactly the same way if the women deliver nuts which are incompletely dried. Furthermore, shea butter trees crop very irregularly (see box), which means the presses can lie idle for two or three years, adding to economic difficulties. The main producer countries are now trying to establish marketing strategies which will exploit the shea butter tree more fully. In Burkina Faso, Togo and Benin, harvesting and marketing have been nationalized, though in Mali and Cote d'Ivoire they have been left in the hands of private enterprise. Only time will tell which policy is the most effective. CEPAZE, 18 rue de Varenne 75006 Paris, FRANCE