Shea is often referred to as womenʼs gold because shea collection and processing are culturally designated womenʼs work. In Ghana, our current target country, more than 600,000 women collect sheanuts and the industry benefits 2 million poor people, 95 percent from rural households. For every 1,000USD of sheanuts sold at the farm gate level 1,580USD in additional household income is generated in the local economy.
Shea is not cultivated in the traditional sense; it takes 25 years for a tree to begin fruiting in the wild. Shea trees begin to drop collectable fruit during the Hungry Months, when food crop and cash reserves are depleted. Because of this it is a crucial source of income for these women and their families: it can cover the costs of food and school fees, bridging the familyʼs income gap to get them through to the harvest of the next crop.
Despite a sustained increase in demand for shea on an international market, which relies solely on poor, rural women collecting shea fruits from the ground in the bush, over 25 percent of sheanuts harvested from Ghana's trees are neither sold nor processed domestically. Further, 60 percent of the available sheanuts that could be collected are not.
These under-capitalizations and inefficiencies are a result of the many challenges faced by women sheanut collectors which Just Shea is helping to alleviate.