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Women producers in Burkina Faso face hardship if shea industry dwindles

Conference delegates adopt call to action
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A woman works on shea butter processing
Traditional shea butter processing in Burkina Faso is done by village women who gather, boil, sun-dry and roast the nuts before they are pounded and ground into a fine paste. The paste is mixed with water to separate the fat, which is then manually churned into creamy butter. CIFOR/Ollivier Girard

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Implementing policies designed to conserve shea trees and support certification initiatives in Burkina Faso will ensure the sector remains a sustainable source of income for more than half a million people, 90 percent of whom are women, according to delegates attending a recent conference in the country’s capital Ouagadougou.

At the event, which attracted more than 175 participants, presentations from the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), Burkina Faso’s Environmental Institute for Agricultural Research (INERA), certification firm Ecocert and a national Multi-Stakeholder Initiative (MSI), the Table Filière Karité were followed by discussions, which culminated in unanimous support for a 10-point call to action.

Jointly hosted by the government of Burkina Faso and CIFOR-ICRAF, the conference addressed the challenges associated with the degradation of the country’s agroforestry parklands, restoration technologies and local knowledge systems. It also explored the key role of the shea industry in providing household oil and as a key source of revenues for women.

Shea parklands in Burkina Faso are not only under threat from urbanization, they also face increasing encroachment from expanding agricultural, pastoral and extraction activities, despite protective government policies and commitments to restore 5 million hectares of land by 2030. Significantly, the density of shea trees declined 95 percent, from an average of 230 to 11.5 plants per hectare between 1946 and 2015. Many trees in the parklands are more than 100 years old, and they are not regenerating. Insecurity, the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change are exacerbating the problem.

The country is one of the largest exporters of shea kernels and shea butter worldwide — the value of shea kernel exports increased threefold between 2000 and 2005 and seven times between 2005 and 2012. Burkina Faso is also grappling with the challenge of trying to secure the maximum value-addition through shea processing by women in the country. Some progress has been made in terms of how women producers have responded to new hand-crafted shea butter markets.

“It’s vitally important to address some of the technical weaknesses regarding shea parkland management and ecosystem restoration, while also introducing certification schemes to ensure the framework is in place to ensure markets are fair and sustainable,” said Andrew Wardell, a principal scientist at CIFOR-ICRAF who leads the Globalizations in a nutshell – Opportunities and risks for women shea producers in West African shea parklands project. “With this approach, access to new markets can be sustainably secured.”

The 10-point call to action ratified by participants at the conference includes support for the development of a national parkland restoration program, domestication and genetic development of the shea tree and the potential introduction of an export tax to support the regeneration of parklands.

“The call to action builds upon the conference discussions, which highlighted shortcomings in the approach to parkland landscape management,” said Mathurin Zida, a scientist with CIFOR-ICRAF, who played a leading role in crafting the call to action. “It provides a foundation that can be built upon and will hopefully close any gaps which have been holding up progress.”

The call to action also positions shea and the MSI within the portfolio of the Ministry of Environment, Green Economy and Climate Change, which has the technical capacity to oversee its implementation. In addition to parkland restoration initiatives, it encourages the establishment of a research program specifically dedicated to parkland species including shea and a public-private partnership to oversee relevant processing and marketing issues, a National Shea Fund with a recurrent funding mechanism, and an evaluation of how to more effectively enforce existing regulations designed to protect shea trees.

“Currently, there are 39 different projects involved in parkland restoration initiatives in the country, but so far only 2 percent of the national target to restore 5 million ha by 2030 has been reached,” said Wardell, whose presentation also included a review of the economic significance of shea to Burkina Faso. “We have to do more than just graft seedlings. How can we more effectively harness local knowledge systems to restore the parklands at scale?” he added.

The outcome of the conference is an important policy step to guide the future management of the parklands, which will support the overall objective of the Globalizations in a Nutshell research project by improving the resilience of the parklands and the women producers of shea products. This will help to promote the sustainable and equitable exploitation and management of shea in accordance with Burkina Faso’s National Climate Change Adaptation Plan and the follow-up to the National Shea Development Strategy 2015-2019.

Women, who are central to shea supply chains, belong to more than 2,000 professional organizations and cooperatives in Burkina Faso. The project, which concludes this month, has explored the vulnerabilities and opportunities associated with changes in the shea market for the livelihoods of rural women producers and shea parks.

“If the shea sector remains at risk and degradation continues, the consequence will be felt not only by rural households, but the national economy will feel the impact,” said Jules Bayala, the representative for CIFOR-ICRAF in Burkina Faso and the Sahel, adding that improving forest, tree and soil health will secure future benefits from shea trees for current and future generations.

The National Shea Forum Roles and responsibilities of actors in the preservation and restoration of shea stands for sustainable management,” was held in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, June 24-25, 2021.

Globalizations in a Nutshell is led by the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry in collaboration with Bioversity International and supported by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the CGIAR Collaborative Research Program on Forests, Trees and agroforestry (FTA).

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This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.
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