Although, largely a produce of the Sahel savanna crop that spreads across several West African countries and beyond, shea butter, pressed out of shea nut, is commanding as much as three billion dollars (N600bn) per annum in foreign markets, where it has found use in a variety of manufacturing processes.
A document of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture shows that the plant grows in states such as Kwara, Katsina, Plateau, Kogi, Oyo, Benue, Edo, Zamfara, Taraba, Borno, Niger, Nasarawa, Kebbi, Sokoto, and Adamawa.
Women at Ilora, Oyo State and shea producing communities in Sabon Gidan, Niger State are committed to processing of the commodity. The same can be said of the other states of the federation. However, processing in several rural communities is still rudimentary resulting in low output, though there are a few others that have upgraded the processing methods.
The Shea industry in Nigeria is on the path of growth, with potentials to mechanically process 6,000 SETs per year and export 50,000 tons per year. It points to the fact that the economy around shea is huge and growing, especially because food and cosmetics manufacturing plants in Asia, Europe and United States depend solely on export from Nigeria and other African countries.
President of Global Shea Alliance, GSA, Eugenia Akuete said more than 15 million women across West Africa are involved in the production and processing of the shea nut. Due to the foreign exchange generated from the export of the butter and its value-added variants, even rural women and their communities receive an additional 50 per cent of the income for every dollar of Shea exported.
Shea nut collection is particularly female gender-friendly, as women are largely responsible for the huge aggregation of nuts that go into processing. This is responsible for the production of handcrafted shea butter in the villages, thereby bringing direct gains for a large number of women.
To show the place of shea trade globally, GSA is a network of association of stakeholders made up of about 170 members from 35 countries with mandate of expanding markets for the commodity and promoting its attributes as quality ingredient for relevant industries. To this end, key points of the value chain such as shea butter producers and exporters, wholesalers, retailers and brands are continually being strengthened to further advance the interest of the trade.
GSA executive, Akuete believes that there would be great impact on the livelihood of the rural communities in Nigeria and the rest of the continent.
“The shea butter industry is huge. Taking steps to develop the capacity for large-scale production of shea in Nigeria will put the country on the right path to diversifying the economy, considering the large market that exists for shea butter and its derivatives in Nigeria and other parts of the world. We can reap the maximum benefit of the international trade of the produce,” a shea trade stakeholder said at the 2013 conference.
The agribusiness activity covering Shea nut and butter has been on for some time according to Dr. Victor Iyama, National President, Federation of Agricultural Commodity Associations of Nigeria (FACAN). He recalled that between 1989 and 1992, there was significant activity until a downturn caused by improperly organised market at the time.
However, Iyama said the commodity is commanding an increasingly larger market locally and internationally. Along with 15 other commodities, he revealed that these non-oil items have the capability of turning around the nation’s economy by as much as $52billion or more per annum if fully exploited. Prior to the coming of the Obasanjo administration, the nation was barely making $570million per year, but when fine-tuned the policies for these commodities, the income flow reached $3billion per year.
On how retrogressive he thinks the recent CBN’s policy to have exporters sell their forex income to the banks at official rate, Iyama said it is inconceivable how an exporter that sourced funds at exchange rate of N225 to the dollar would sell the dollar income at N199 to the bank, when there is an alternative and more profitable window of N230 – N235.
If the CBN insists on the present policy, Iyama fears people may stop doing proper documentation because they would not want to be losing money; not only that, smuggling goods out of the country through other ports in Togo, Benin and Ghana is a possibility, while some may explore even the hinterland countries like Niger to ship their goods.
He called on the President to forestall moves that are capable of destroying the non-oil economy of the country.
The local extraction, mainly done by women, is quite laborious, sometimes requiring as much as 25 hours extracting barely a kilogram of butter.
A study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology by the Department of Pharmacology at the College of Medicine, of the University of Lagos, revealed that shea butter is an effective nasal decongestant.
In the cosmetic industries, it has been found to retain its natural nutritional and medicinal attributes well cherished in skincare product lines.
The chemical compounds in the class of phenols have anti-aging benefits. Some female users say they apply it directly or in mixture of other jellies to achieve the purpose of reducing wrinkles, removal of black spots and maintaining a generally smooth skin. Another female user on a national radio programme in Lagos revealed its ability to reduce stretch marks (off colour lines on the skin).
Another female user, who is in the fifties claimed to have used the raw product as skin moisturizer with the effect that the wrinkle around her mouth and under the chin eased off considerably, making her look younger.
According to chemists, the higher the quantity of the liquid part of the butter called olein, the softer and more fragrant. This is known to help better absorption into the skin. It has found use as hair conditioners for dry and brittle hair, while it is also employed by soap makers that put small quantities of about seven per cent of the oils in the recipe.
World conferences have held in different places, including Nigeria, where issues on the economic, social and environmental aspects of shea, particularly on sourcing logistics, quality regulation, processing innovations, business modeling, social accountability, sustainable marketing, cosmetics formulation, soap-making, and biodiversity are discussed.
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