ï¿½yet farmers are unhappy
Export earnings from shea butter products almost doubled last year, making it one of the 10 leading performers in processed/semi-processed products of non-traditional exports in 2014.
Receipts from export of the commodity reached GH?52million last year, a 96 percent rise over the GH?26million recorded in 2013.
Nonetheless, farmers are unhappy due to what they describe as ï¿½governmentï¿½s neglectï¿½ and ï¿½lack of supportï¿½ for a sector they believe holds enormous export potential for the country.
ï¿½We have never received any form of support from anywhere to help us increase our yield. We need roads, especially bridges, because when it rains we are unable to cross the many water bodies to farms. It is when it rains that the ripe fruits fall off; so when this happens, animals usually eat up the fruitï¿½which is not good,ï¿½ Akurigo Samuel, whose family operates a large shea farm located in a town called Kandiga in the Kessena-Nankan West district of the Upper East Region, told the B&FT.
Demand for the commodity is high as Shea products have multiple uses; the butter can be used as cooking oil, or be processed into inputs for cosmetics, soap, confectionary and pharmaceuticals.
Over the past decade, demand for shea butter produced in West Africa has increased by more than 1,200 percent. In 2012 an estimated 350,000 metric tonnes of kernels were exported from West Africa, with a market value of about US$120million.
However, the sector is not streamlined and the cash-tree continues to suffer from bad farming practices and negative-cultural beliefs.
Annually, bush fires resulting from bad farming practices destroy many hectares of shea farms in many shea-growing communities of the three Northern Regions.
Also, among many communities in the Upper East Region where shea is commonly grown, the tree is allowed to grow on its own because people believe that anyone who plants it will die ï¿½ along with their household.
Bad cultural practices such as these, coupled with lack of government support in the form of incentives and road infrastructure, are hindering growth of the shea industry.
The sector is considered a key industry to empower rural women and reduce poverty and hunger in Northern Ghana where the tree is grown.
Currently, it is estimated that about 16 million rural women in Africa depend on the cash-crop for their livelihoods, as many women support their family and children's education by collecting, processing, and selling shea kernels and butter for both local consumption and/or export.
The fruit of the tree also comes with sweet edible pulp, which offers a considerable means of reducing hunger among rural folksï¿½especially children.
In spite of the fact that women do not own shea farms due to cultural norms, shea butter has been traditionally extracted by women from the dried kernels of the shea tree; and the industry today still revolves predominately around them.
These activities can contribute on average 15 percent or more to their household income.
The country thus stands to gain enormously from the sector if it invests into helping the farmers to improve production.
According to the farmers science has also not done the sector any good, as there have been no efforts to scientifically develop high-yielding shea tree varieties which could help them to increase yield.
This, coupled with poor road networks and lack of ready market for shea products, is also stifling the sectorï¿½s growth.
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