UNIDO, in step with many LDC governments around the world, is giving increasing importance to private-sector growth as a way to lift people out of poverty. It is also focusing heavily on the development of agribusiness in an effort to give poor developing economies a better chance of sustainable development, with a focus on helping producers to earn money all the way through the value chain. Developments in the shea butter value chain in Mali show how small steps in these areas can make a difference.
For centuries the shea tree and the butter produced from its fruit have been central to the lives of rural communities mainly women in Mali and other west African countries.
Mali has one of the largest areas of trees in the so-called shea belt, but rudimentary production processes mean production hovers around 80,000 tons/year, far short of an estimated potential of 250,000 tons/year. At the same time, the country has tended to export the raw shea nut or butter through markets in Burkina Faso or Ghana rather than capitalising on any value added for its own producers.
For these rural communities, which lie outside any kind of formal economy, shea butter is an increasingly important but still underdeveloped product. The women continue to harvest the fruit by hand from wild treeswhich grow in abundance across Mali’s red earth. The nuts are extracted, boiled, dried and shelled by groups of women and girls working together. They are then crushed, roasted and ground into a paste to make the butter.
This physically demanding process has changed little since the late 18th century when Scottish explorer Mungo Park first introduced Europe to shea butter and its properties, describing it as better than any butter from cow’s milk.
For the last ten years, UNIDO has been supporting the government of Mali in its efforts to help rural communities to better exploit shea’s value adding potentials and improve the livelihoods of women who depend on this value chain for around 80% of their income.
The shea nuts butter has traditionally been used for cooking and as a cosmetic product particularly in skin creams and soaps . With a rise in the popularity of natural cosmetic products in the west, demand has been increasing for shea nuts butter as a raw material in the cosmetic industry. However, women incomes will rise on a sustainable basis, only if shea butter producers are able to increase value adding and improve product quality and be able to access international markets.
In a collaborative effort with the Ministry of Women, which heavily supports women’s small private-sector enterprises, and with funding from UNIDO and the Government of Luxembourg, UNIDO has set up three pilot centres in Dioila.