Path Home Shows 2009 Show Archive August 2009 Show 0932 Shea Butter

Shea Butter

Shea nut butter is a natural fat that is extracted from the Shea tree and is only found in West Africa. When shea butter is properly manufactured, the resource can bring about extremely high profits except for the people who produce it.
Shea Butter

Shea Butter

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Article: Hatching Agribusiness Incubator in Mali
Shea Butter Institute

Show Dates

Show 0932: Shea Butter

Air date: August 9, 2009



Rob:  The largest continent in the world, Africa is a land of abundant resources, both natural resources and in human talent.  Yet, since colonial times, other countries have mined the continent of its riches while often leaving the local population in poverty.  Today, we return to Africa in our on-going look at the relationship between our two peoples.  Our Dwan Brumfield joins me now to explain how a simple tree nut may hold the key to breaking the cycle of poverty in West Africa.

Dwan:  Yes Rob, shea nut butter is a natural fat; it’s extracted from the shea tree and only found in West Africa.  And when shea butter is properly manufactured, the resource can bring about extremely high profits except for the people who produce it.

Dwan:  Meet Assa Kante, a Malian graduate student at OSU getting her Phd in women’s studies.  Her passion?  The women of Mali and how they can produce better profits from one of their country’s most abundant resources, shea butter.

Assa Kante:  The shea butter is a butter extracted from the fruit of a plant called the shea tree, which is grown in Africa, mostly in 13 African countries, including Mali.

Dwan:  Mali is the largest producer of shea butter in Africa, and Assa says her countrymen use it for a multitude of reasons.

Kante:  It is the main medicinal product for babies, newborns, in Africa, for stomachache, for cold, cough, body ache, and so on.

Dwan:  So while the shea plant is only grown in Africa, shea butter is used around the globe, a valuable component used in food, medicine, and skincare products.  Yet the women who produce the product see very little profit from it.

Kante:  Everybody at the rural level is producing shea butter, so this means that it doesn’t have a high cost, because if you want to sell it at a high price, you have to take it to another market.

Dwan:  Take the shea butter to a better market.  That sounds easy enough.  But in the rural area of a third-world country, mobility is not easy to come by.

Kante:  If you want to take it to cities, it is another problem.  Transportation is another problem.

Dwan:  Besides transportation, Assa says the traditional way the resource is produced is also a problem.  That’s why she wrote a how-to guide that modifies some steps in the way the butter is extracted from the nut.

Kante:  What we need to do, is to help our sisters in rural areas, educate them, inform them and then help them.

Dwan:  The production of shea butter is not just a business.  It is the difference between a family being provided for and living in extreme poverty.

Kante:  Shea butter is one of the main, you know, revenue sources in rural areas.  Most of the women rely on the shea butter to take care of their families, to take care of the education of their children. So this means that it is an important product for African women, you know, and they need some help.

Dwan:  Helping to make Mali’s most abundant export meet international standards that Assa hopes in turn will bring more abundant profits to the people of Mali.

Dwan:  Products with shea butter can be seen down the health and beauty aisles of any store across the nation; and it’s especially added in products targeting problem skin.  Shea butter can also be found in hair care products and even in chocolate.  In fact, some chocolate makers are finding it more profitable to replace cocoa butter with shea butter.

Rob:  So if this shea butter is so valuable, why are Assa’s countrymen, why are they still struggling with such poverty?

Dwan:  It’s pretty simple Rob.  The middlemen, or the intermediates as Assa likes to call them, are getting the lion’s share of the profits.  Here let me show you.  I went to West Africa where shea butter is produced.  I then went to the local market in Banjul the capital of The Gambia.  That’s where I purchased three kilos of shea butter for two hundred and fifty dalasis, that’s roughly ten American dollars.

Rob:  So you paid just ten dollars for this big ‘ol slab of shea butter?

Dwan:  Yes Rob I did.  And just to give you a better idea of just how expensive this shea butter really is I went online and I found where a person could purchase pure unrefined shea butter, five ounces, for forty dollars.  Well, this is three kilos, and in three kilos is over one hundred ounces.  So you’re looking at this ten dollars that I spent in Africa being worth, on an international scale, well over eight hundred dollars.

Rob:  Well is certainly opens your eyes about just how much the middlemen are taking out.  Now, I know you also had the opportunity to visit with another graduate student from Africa.

Dwan:  That’s right Rob.  I recently met Patrick Saisi, a Kenyan graduate student attending OSU.  He is taking proactive steps in making a difference in his home village by educating himself first.  Patrick teaches at OSU while gaining his doctorate in agricultural education, and says in addition to teaching he is also interested in politics, so he can be a voice for the people back home in his village of Chiptulu.

Patrick Saisi:  When you live in a village, you know that village better than when you just, somebody comes from somewhere and then comes to say, hey this is, you need to do this.  I want to change the attitude that the villagers, even though they may be poor, even though they may be illiterate, they know something about that village; and, when you are doing development, please listen to them.  That is something that is lacking, big gap, we are just told what to do.

Rob:  Now if you’d like to see the rest of Patrick’s story, we do have a web-only exclusive.  Simply head to our website at and click on value added.