Benin and Burkina Faso: How to Improve Shea Butter Production and Combat Land Degradation

March 17, 2019
Challenge Agricultural activity and vegetable production are the predominant economic pursuits in Benin and account for 38 per cent of annual gross domestic production. The production of shea has largely been carried out by women and youth. The production process is strenuous and involves heavy work. Collection of firewood and the money spent on fuel for the mills represent a significant human and financial cost for the local communities and shea producers. Deforestation and the loss of forest cover contribute to land degradation while smoke from the firewood represents a health hazard and contributes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The improvement of this process would leave producers with more income and confer considerable environmental benefits. Towards a Solution To improve local shea production in Benin, the NGO Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)-BENIN requested support from the international NGO TREE AID of Burkina Faso. From January to February 2013, a South-South exchange between Benin and Burkina Faso took place, during which participating Beninese farmers learned how to significantly shorten the production cycle of shea, an exceedingly slow-growing species that takes about 25 to 30 years to reach productive maturity, through a grafting process. With the technical support of an agricultural engineer at TREE AID, the Beninese farmers learned how to use assisted natural regeneration to improve their trees’ productive capacity. By establishing a system for rotating the branches to ensure stable fruit yield, they were able to increase shea butter production by 3 tonnes in two years, at a rate of 1.5 tonnes per year. The Beninese producers also learned how to naturally control parasitic plants, which are a considerable hindrance to shea production. Finally, in Burkina Faso, farmers had come up with the idea of rigorously harvesting the Tapinenthus, a genus of mistletoe. They taught the Beninese how to dry the Tapinenthus and add it to ash to manufacture soaps. This provided the Boukoumbé with another source of income. As a result of the exchange, improved techniques for shea production were introduced to the local agricultural community by CERD-Benin. Specifically, 12 agricultural leaders from ten villages in Natta have learned how to graft the shea tree and shorten its production cycle. The project also sought to give poorer populations and landowners access to an income-generating activity by utilizing short growth-cycle shea trees, as well as to provide the local women’s organization, Association Mère d’Elèves (AME), with access to sustainable sources of livelihood by creating shea butter from the shea nuts. Seventy-six women have become shea nut suppliers, selling their shea nuts to the Boukombé production centre. Every year, AME produces and sells 3 tonnes of shea butter in 20 rural villages, resulting in a current annual profit of approximately CFAF 1 million (US$ 1,772). Part of this budget is dedicated to the schooling of orphans and vulnerable children in their communities. The shea production cycle has also increased the local soil fertility and has contributed to the prevention of land degradation, due to the excess biomass by means of foliage, which is now being returned to the soil. This reapplication of the foliage helps with the soil coverage and improves the water-retentive capacity of the soil. A ten-hectare shea forest has been established in a previously deforested area of Boukombé. The project has also attracted the attention of the younger generation. CERD hired a number of interns from a nearby agricultural technical school, who were interested in learning about shea production as an income-generating activity. From an economic perspective, the shea production activities have also contributed to increasing shea tree prices. Duringimplementation, challengesarosesuchaswhere to plant the shea trees to establish a shea production area. The City Council of Boukombé contributed by proposing land use partnerships between landowners and users in order to avoid potential conflicts regarding land use, and by requiring the negotiation of fair prices for rent, taking into account the potential profit from a productive shea butter farm. A lesson learned from this project is to have town hall negotiation meetings with the local community to determine appropriate land on which to establish shea production activities, with a particular focus on women’s rights to access and use land. The project contributes to the SDGs by providing income-generating alternatives to alleviate local poverty and by ensuring local economic growth. It also contributes to reduced inequalities between men and women by providing women with access to work, as well as responsible production based on local natural resources. Additionally, the project contributes to the SDGs by rehabilitating lands that have been degraded in order to protect and conserve terrestrial ecosystems. Countries/territories involved: Benin, Burkina Faso Supported by: GEF Small Grants Programme Implementing entities: GEF Small Grants Programme Nigeria (UNDP), and Culture, Éducation et Recherche pour le Développement au Bénin Project status: Completed Project period: 2012-2013 URL of the practice: Contact: Name: Mr. Mathieu Houinato, Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme (SGP) National Coordinator, Benin Email: