Shea butter can be described as gold. According to a paper by M.C.C. Eneh, director, Federal Department of Agriculture, shea butter currently grows in the wild in many states including Niger, Nasarawa, Kebbi, Kwara, Kogi, Adamawa, Benue, Edo, Katsina, Plateau, Sokoto, Zamfara, Taraba, Borno and Oyo. It grows side by side with food and cash crops, and it is widely exploited by the indigents in the area it grows.
Though shea butter grows mostly in rural areas, its products have international value – where it is well sought after, especially by cosmetics producers. Its products are also in high demand domestically. The fleshy pulp is eaten locally like mango; trunk, bark, cortex, roots and leaves are used in preparation of herbal remedies; trunk makes excellent charcoal and is also useful as building material. Butter extracted from the kernel is also locally used in traditional medicines and cosmetics, and in industries in making chocolates, and pastries as cocoa butter substitute. It is also used in pharmaceuticals.
Many companies in developed countries depend on shea butter from Africa in the production of their products. The owners of Shea Radiance, one of such businesses, Funlayo and Shola Alabi, a Nigerian couple based in the United States, were in Nigeria for some days to teach rural women how to make cosmetics with shea butter. This was at a conference tagged ‘Global Shea Alliance’ in Abuja recently. Shea Radiance makes high quality cosmetics such as lotions and soaps from shea butter in Maryland, USA, and the raw materials are sourced from Nigeria.
At the conference, Funlayo and Shola Alabi taught the participants how to make their own lotion and cosmetics, using ingredients easily available in their local communities.
The conference brought together over 500 representatives from Africa, Asia, Europe and the US to plan the future of the shea industry, an industry whose global significance grows every year.
Shea Radiance led a series of successful “Thinking Global, Marketing Local” training sessions, with over 200 participants engaged in live demonstrations of soap and lotion making workshops.
The conference participants also took a trip to shea producing communities in Sabon Gidan, Niger State. The organisers wanted to find out if there had been any significant changes in the community since they started working with them in 2011. The rural women excitedly shared the economic progress they were experiencing as a result of having a vibrant shea butter business.
Habiba Mahmoud, one of the several women interviewed, said “the shea butter business has had positive impact on her family.” She, like other women, has been using the income from shea butter to feed, clothe and educate her children.
Income from shea butter has been helping young girls stay in school and get education. Shea butter is called ‘Women’s gold’ in that community.