By Ebele Orakpo
Although Nigeria is the largest producer of shea nuts in Africa, accounting for about 40 per cent of the 600,000 MT of shea nut in West Africa annually, accounting for almost 60 per cent of world’s supply of shea butter and allied derivatives valued at about $3.8 billion every year according to Global Shea Alliance, yet, the country is not benefiting from the huge shea market because of low quality of the butter and nuts.
To reverse the trend, the National Shea Product Association of Nigeria, NASPAN, is working to improve the overall capacity of the shea industry in Nigeria. Speaking at a press conference in Lagos, the Vice-President, NASPAN, Mrs Mobola Sagoe said despite Nigeria’s great potential in the shea industry, it is currently lagging its less endowed neighbours in the optimal harnessing of this resource as an export commodity.
Sagoe said: “The Shea industry is growing. We are working on how to improve the quality of shea in Nigeria because that has been holding us back. We have started training the women. Over 15 million women across West Africa participate directly in the Shea industry.” She stressed the need for government to be part of the Shea industry as Nigeria seeks to diversify her economy.
On the areas the government could come in, Sagoe said government should invest in warehouses, border control to stop smuggling, processing centres and mechanised techniques. “The Nigerian Export Promotion Council has been helpful and it is in the interest of Nigeria that the quality of the butter is grade A.
“Shea is found in 21 states in Nigeria but we can only identify four states – Niger, Kebbi, Oyo and Kwara – that produce quality shea that can be exported. If we are not able to export, then we cannot change the economy. Even the local market is big enough now because the cosmetics industry is growing so fast. If they can all use shea, you will be amazed at how that alone will change the economy before we talk of exporting.
If we get the government on our side to improve the quality, train more women in the rural areas, we will achieve much.” In some of these villages, there are no television sets so the women are cut off, meanwhile they are the ones putting food on a lot of people’s table. Government needs to help us strategize on how to help the women in health and safety. Most times they get raped, bitten by snakes etc. Women go into the bush at about 5.00am to pick the nuts.
There is also a process for picking shea nuts. It is all natural; nobody planted shea tree. It is a gift from God and because of that, every single process of shea is natural. The picking, boiling, processing are all natural. Shea nuts are not plucked from the tree, they are allowed to drop by themselves. If they are plucked from the tree, you get low quality butter. Taking them to a processing centre is another issue entirely.
The women are willing to pick because they know they will get good money but they can only pick good nuts and get good nuts to the centre if it is package well so packaging was an issue. Shea nuts must be put in jute bags. So we are putting standards in place. “We are working on empowering women because without the women, there is no shea. Without the shea trees, we won’t have shea to produce.
We are also working on securing shea trees. For years, shea trees have been cut down by farmers and charcoal merchants and we are trying to stop that. It takes a shea tree about 30 years to start producing but now, NIFOR has come up with a variety that can produce in five – seven years. The advancement of the Shea industry in Nigeria is being promoted by Shea Origin, USAID/Nigeria Expanded Trade and Transport (NEXTI) project, Bank of Industry (BOI) and NASPAN.
A 2010 USAID study showed that for every $1,000 of Shea nuts sold at the farm gate level, US$1,580 in additional household income is generated in the local economy. Shea is needed all over the world at the moment as a substitute for cocoa, it is a product that if it is used in any skin care product, you see the immediate result.