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Opinions of Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Columnist: Aboba, Mathias

Woes Of The Shea Industry In Ghana

Woes Of The Shea Industry In Ghana: A Failure Of State And Enterprise

Mathias Aboba

Various speakers at a recent shea multi stakeholder’s forum on the theme sustaining the shea industry in Ghana: the need for a clear public policy, painted a picture which confirms that the industry is in a quag mire. The litany of its problems as speaker after speaker lamented starts with the life of the shea tree to nut harvesting , nut and butter processing and then to the marketing of shea butter and other shea products.

It is in this light that some shea nut farmers and other key players in the sector think government “concreteless” statement of its desire to create a shea board and the recent announcement of GH¢30 cedis as guarantee price for shea nut smacks of government’s ineptness in confronting the teething challenges facing an industry which has been touted as Ghana’s most sustainable economic potential.
While it has been acknowledged that the severity of some these problems have seen significant shedding in the past half decade, others have actually aggravated because of the negligible government investment coupled with the paucity of entrepreneurs in the sector. A major factor accounting for the industry’s predicament has been identified as lack of a legislative frame work, raising more questions than answers over why the state knowing the immerse potential and contribution of the sector to rural income and poverty reduction has dragged its feet all this while and up till now we do not know when the country will put in place the necessary legal bodies including a Shea Development Board (SDB), Shea Research Institute(SRI) among others and back them with the necessary resources and political will to get the industry which has been described as the hen that lay the golden eggs out of the woods to save the lives of thousands of Ghanaians.
But something which stands out very clear but which continues to receive less attention in this age long debate on the ill faith of the shea sector in the country is the missing entrepreneurial link in the sector. Of course over the past few years the sector has witnessed some growth in enterprise with some marked success in nut export, butter procession, and some value added products development such as soap and creams. This notwithstanding so little is seen or heard about shea products in the country. This is certainly amazing given that shea butter and its products have such immaculate stories that leave you wondering why it is almost a product found and used by people in northern Ghana and even in the north it is only people who want to be traditional or the poor who uses it.
I like to keep referring to the just ended shea multi stakeholder forum held in Bolgatanga in the upper East Region because of some of the shocking revelation that came out from the two days conference. I found it shocking when I heard from one of the speakers from neighboring Burkina Faso that a study in that country shows that 90 % of Africans do not know about shea and yet most of the industry players have their eyes clued to markets in Europe, America and other places.
The question which arises is; what is preventing the business people in the shea sector from adequately promoting the product in order to increase its acceptance by the African, Ghanaian consumer? Are we underestimating the size of the Africa market? Is it not the same market that is becoming the magnet of Europe and Asia especially Chinese industries? But if you want to know how narrow the vision of the entrepreneurs in the sector in Ghana is, the next time you meet one of them ask him or her how many regions in Ghana can we find shea products?
In fact, while every one agrees that the industry needs public policy to provide the necessary catalytic effect for its growth and expansion no one should overlook the fact that just as it has been possible for some one to pick foreign products which we know little about and create enticing stories about them and get Ghanaians to doll money for them it is much more possible to make Millions of GH¢ if some one can bring innovation and creativity into the promotion of the use of indigenous products such as shea .
The secret I think is we need a strong local conviction about the real value of shea industry to compel us to make the needed sacrifices to save the shea tree which still occurs in the wild largely unprotected predominantly in the three regions of the north and which continues to be at the mercy of both human and climate change effects. The is the most preferred tree for wood by artisans, local construction, charcoal burners, commercial fire wood users such as chop bar operators, pito brewers etc as a result the population of shea trees is rapid dwindling.
A strong national value for the sector will also push the unwilling hands of our modern and traditional law makers and give them the moral courage and zeal to make better environmental protection laws to ensure the availability, accessibility and affordability of alternative sources of energy. We also need laws which will stamp out wild bush fires while employing renewable measures to re-plant shea trees in degraded areas since annual bush fires ranks as the leading cause of the destruction of shea trees. Until this is done the current estimation that puts the lose of shea trees through bush fires, charcoal and fuel wood close to 60% will escalate

Such a situation will create more worries for a potentially buoyant industry considering that like any other industry it is dependent on its primary input-the nuts against the fact that the average shea tree takes between 15 to 25 years to bear fruits. Which means that since the capacity of nut production is directly proportional to the number of adult fruit bearing trees, all other things being equal the industry faces the threat of not being able to meet future supply incase the local and international market demands experience any unexpected forward surge in the near future.
If we are successful at expanding the domestic acceptability of shea products, the plight of the nut pickers and processors who have remained loyal “foot soldiers” of the industry will be appreciated. There will be enormous pressure on government from many quarters for a regulatory policy to allocate benefits and resources to the larger population, shift resources or benefits from advantaged groups to disadvantaged groups and set guidelines for the actions and practices of private individuals, firms or businesses particularly regarding entry and market prices. Such a policy will also protect the public from health hazards and perceived harm to live and the environment.

In the view of Dr. Seidu Al-hassan of the University for Development Studies the role of enterprise and the state is crucial for the manufacturing of simple equipments and tools to reduce the drudgery associated with shea butter processing. We also need entrepreneurs for the formulation of cosmetics based and edible products, including cocoa butter equivalents or cocoa butter improvers’. Research and credit institutions and infrastructure are also relevant and urgently needed.

Perhaps the time is now, the state and business men and women must recognize the potentials of the shea sector in the country and take initiatives to capitalise on the begging opportunity to transform lives, communities and the national economy as a whole.