Sunkpa Shea Women: from rural Ghana to New York

The Sunkpa Shea Women’s Cooperative (northern Ghana) uses shea nut butter production as a way to care for the beautiful and biodiverse Mole Ecological Landscape. Through shea nut collection and shea butter processing, the collective of around 1,000 women encourages landscape restoration and builds a green value chain in the shea butter industry.  

The Sunkpa Shea Women’s journey started in 2013, when their daily task was to walk several miles to collect shea nuts and either sell or process them into butter to sell at the local market. Collecting shea from the wild is a time-consuming effort; making hand-made shea butter is a tedious process. The women faced additional challenges: a lack of transport to bring the nuts to a processing centre, inconsistent local or export markets, the felling of shea trees by charcoal producers – and less than premium prices for their shea butter.  

Through the Community Resource Management Area (CREMA) and support from A Rocha Ghana and the Savannah Fruits Company, the women organized themselves into a cooperative to address their challenges. Collaboration allowed them to establish a green value chain for quality hand-made shea butter and to address challenges across the chain. For example, the women established – and now manage – a nursery where they grow shea and other indigenous seedlings to use for landscape restoration to ensure a consistent supply of shea nuts.  

They also now have an ultra-modern shea butter processing facility, tricycles to ease transportation challenges and a link with a cosmetic company, Evolution of Smooth, headquartered in New York – the first organic shea butter from the Mole Landscape went to New York for sale in June 2021! For nine years, the Sunkpa Shea Women have been steadfast in their efforts to have their everyday rural livelihood bring sustainability both to their landscape and their business.  

The contribution of these women was recognised nationally and internationally in July this year with the awarding of the prestigious Equator Prize, a biennial recognition of outstanding community efforts to reduce poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. This achievement highlights the importance of indigenous people as defenders of a country’s natural resources and the crucial role they play in conserving the environment. 

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