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Helping women crack the Shea nut market in Nigeria

The Propcom Mai-Karfi project is transforming the lives of female Shea nut pickers by providing access to markets and reliable income for them and their families.

My daughters and I wake up very early to walk 5km to the wilds to pick Shea nuts. When we have picked and processed our nuts to kernels, trying to sell is our biggest challenge. It costs us so much to take our Shea kernels to the market to sell, and then when we do, we do not get paid all of our money immediately.” Hassana Isah

A women's group member picks Shea nuts in the wilds in Mokwa, Niger state

Shea nuts are predominantly grown in west and central Africa in the semi dry Sahel, popularly referred to by traders as the ‘Shea Belt’. Nigeria is the largest producer of Shea nuts in this area. The Shea trees are found in most parts of the north, including, Kaduna, Jigawa, Niger, Kogi and Benue. There is an increasing demand for Shea, primarily driven by the cosmetics industry and the recognition of Shea as a low cost substitute for cocoa butter. With production in these major producing states dominated by groups of women, the growth in the Shea nut market presents an opportunity to provide rural women with a sustainable income and a route to financial independence. However, despite the vast potential for women in this market, they are faced with two main road blocks: the low quality of Shea kernels harvested exacerbated by limited knowledge of how to improve kernel quality, and traders that offer very low prices, effectively reducing the industry to subsistence.

Palladium’s Propcom Mai-Karfi project aims to create systemic changes in agriculture and rural markets in northern Nigeria. The project works to increase employment and improve productivity, and by 2017 aims to have raised the incomes of at least 250,000 women by up to 50%. Having identified the potential of the Shea nut market, Propcom has been working to develop an environment that supports the empowerment of rural women – in essence ensuring a fair price for a quality product.

Boiling Shea nuts is a key step in processing the kernels.

The project identifies potential partners from new indigenous processors and buyers entering the Shea nut market. In piloting this strategy, Propcom worked with SALID Nigeria Limited, providing capacity building support to procurement officers recruited by SALID to strengthen links between trading companies and the pickers. These procurement officers went on to train groups of female Shea nut pickers to increase the quality of kernels, and therefore the value of their commodity. They also purchased a large number of high quality processed kernels. This link provided a ready market for these women and ensured that pickers developed the skills to secure and grow their businesses. In 2015, over a thousand women sold their Shea kernels to SALID and increased their Shea business revenue by an average of 39%.

When SALID bought from us, they came to our doorstep, bought at a higher price, and paid us instantly. I sold 96 bags of kernels to SALID. It really feels good to have some extra money in my pocket”. Hassana Isah

Propcom has worked to develop an environment that supports the empowerment of rural women.

Through the support of Propcom Mai-Karfi and buyers like SALID, female Shea nut pickers are increasing their profits and ability to provide for their families. Now, the quality of Shea is directly linked to income and the Shea picker groups are incentivised to maintain and improve the standard of their product. SALID was even able to supply procured Shea kernels and nuts from female producers to international buyers such as IOI Loders Crocklaan (for their global range of oil products).

Economic growth is founded on sustainable and scalable markets; Propcom Mai-karfi works hard to ensure that rural markets in Nigeria work for the poor. Following the invaluable lessons of the SALID pilot, the project is targeting more partnerships that help provide rural women with access to the lifeblood of economic empowerment.