Juliana Sampana is a small-scale farmer growing maize, millet, tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables. She is married with six children and previously worked as a primary school teacher.
Akoma is a group of 73 women who gather shea nuts and process them into shea butter, which is used in the cosmetics industry as a moisturiser or lotion and in Europe in chocolate and margarine. They cover more than 2,400 hectares (6,000 acres) around the villages of Pusu-Namogo, Winkogo, Balunga and Pwalugu in the Talensi-Nabdam district of the Upper East Region, an impoverished area in the in the north-eastern corner of Ghana, bordered by Burkina Faso to the north and Togo to the east. The villages are about 20 minutes’ drive from the regional capital Bolgatanga.
Many women in our region and elsewhere have over the years worked so hard to put food on their tables for their families through farming and other odd jobs but end up with an unfair income leading to several deficiencies as a result of poor dieting. With Fairtrade the women are assured of receiving a fair wage for their hard work.
Making shea butter
Shea nuts are the fruit of the shea tree, which is only found in Africa. They are a resource of great nutritional and economic importance across 16 countries of sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea and Mali, as well as Ghana. Ghana produces around 65,000 tonnes of shea nuts a year. In 2008, 42,500 tonnes were exported with a value of $42m (FAO).
Traditional shea butter processing is carried out by village women who gather, boil and sun-dry the nuts before they are pounded and ground to a paste. The paste is mixed with water to separate the fat, which is then manually churned into creamy butter. Shea butter is used in Africa as a cooking fat and as a skin and hair treatment. In Europe it is mainly used by the food industry in chocolate, margarine, and confectionery products because of its low cost and effective emulsifying properties. It is increasingly used in soaps, moisturisers, and other cosmetic products because of its high quality and exceptional characteristics and the growing demand in the cosmetics industry for natural products which are not harmful to the environment.
Background to Akoma
The Upper East Region is the second poorest region in Ghana. It has high[TDP1] levels of poverty along with high incidences of diseases such as malaria, kwashiorkor and beriberi which the health services are unable to adequately deal with. High rates of illiteracy are compounded by low school attendance – primary school is free but many parents can’t afford related costs such as uniforms, pens and books.
With few employment opportunities, around 70% of the population rely on agriculture for their livelihood. The majority of both men and women in the Pusu-Namogo area are subsistence farmers, growing maize, millet, corn, groundnuts (peanuts) and rice. The main income for women is derived from collecting shea nuts fallen from the shea trees which grow naturally over an area of around 225 acres (90ha). Each woman collects shea nuts from an area of roughly 5 acres (2ha), on average gathering 15 bags of 80kg each during the May to October harvest season. Traditionally shea nuts are sold at local markets and small amounts processed into shea butter for home use.
Since 2002, Trade Akoma Ghana Ltd has been exporting a range of products from Ghana including handicrafts and skincare and food ingredients. It sources products specifically from small-scale producers to build their capacity and improve their incomes. In 2006, it identified the informal groups of women shea nut collectors from Pusu-Namogo village as potential partners and helped them form the Akoma Co-operative Multipurpose Society in the same year.
Since then, their business has extended to three more villages and been transformed from a small-scale domestic activity to an export enterprise. In October 2008, Trade Akoma Ghana, with funding from partners Akoma International UK, completed construction of a brand new warehouse and processing facility in the village. Co-operative members have been trained to wash, crush, roast, mill and knead the nuts to produce shea butter that meets international standards, which they then pack ready for export. The facility has the capacity to produce around eight tonnes of shea butter a day and store 12,000 bags of shea nuts. Akoma currently produces around 45 tonnes of shea butter a year, of which 15 tonnes are certified organic. Akoma was registered as a co-operative with the Department of Co-operatives in January 2009 and around 350 more women have recently applied for registration as members.
Importantly, the group doesn’t intend to depend solely on the production of shea butter but, as a multipurpose society, plans to diversify into other crafts and acquire new skills such as dressmaking, soap making and cocoa butter production to increase their offering as a co-operative and provide a year-round income for women in the community.
Akoma & Fairtrade
Akoma’s mission is to improve the economic position of its members and reduce poverty in their community. As an organisation, it recognises that, over time, the guaranteed higher prices from Fairtrade sales are among the few options available that will enable the marginalised women they represent to improve their standard of living and be able to afford to send their children to school.
Akoma was Fairtrade certified in July 2009, the first shea butter producer from Ghana to be certified. Akoma is paid at least the minimum Fairtrade price for shea butter of €2,640 a tonne, which ensures that members receive a decent return for their work. The additional Fairtrade premium of €185 a tonne is for members to invest in business improvements and social programmes that benefit their community.
Fairtrade premium projects
Juliana Sampana said members are earning three or four times as much by processing and exporting shea butter compared to just selling shea nuts to the local market. While Fairtrade premiums from their first year’s sales were modest, they have enabled the co-op to provide each member with free health insurance and to purchase enough material to have a free school uniform made up for one child from each member’s family.
The members have lots of ideas for the premium if they can increase sales – renovating the dilapidated Pusu-Namogo primary school buildings, buying computers and setting up a library to help children study, and building a clinic. More ambitiously, they would love to improve their children’s access to secondary school, something which is out of the question for most of them.
Juliana Sampana is clear that members’ lives can be transformed by participation in the Fairtrade system. But hopes of a better future for members and their families depend on the growth of the Fairtrade cosmetics market which would allow Akoma to sell more and more of their shea butter on Fairtrade terms.
Buying Akoma shea butter products
Shea butter produced by members of Akoma Cooperative Multipurpose Society is used as an ingredient in these products:
Akoma African Black Soap from Ghana (Akoma Skincare) and Akoma Raw Shea Butter (Akoma Skincare)