Shea Development

By: Kyle Poorman

Iowa State University 22 December 2020

Shea nut production by rural women is the focus of a pioneering project between the Ullo Traditional Area (UTA) in the Upper West Region of Ghana and Consortium member institutions Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) and Iowa State University (ISU). This is an integrated research and development project revolving around the preservation, value-added processing, and fair trade marketing of shea nuts and butter.

ISU and UTA have deep ties due to a long-term relationship nurtured through collaboration with the Engineers Without Borders (EWB) student chapter at ISU. Initially focused solely on development engineering projects to improve access to water resources, the partnership has evolved and now includes students and faculty of the newly formed EWB chapter at KNUST. This project is one of several that have resulted from actively engaging with community members to identify and assess long-term needs that go beyond technical solutions and address improving livelihoods and overcoming malnutrition and poverty.

The UTA has an abundance of wild shea nut trees which is characteristic of a narrow band in the Dry Savannah Region of Sub-Saharan Africa. Products derived from the nuts are sought after for food and cosmetic products in Ghana and around the world. Given the growing market demand for shea products, this project focuses on enhancing the community’s ability to capture a fairer share of the profits from this natural resource in a sustainable manner. This includes enhancing storage technologies to reduce losses and preserve the quality of the nuts and butter, understanding and augmenting processing practices to reduce resource and labor needs, and ultimately developing access to fair trade markets for the sale of value-added shea nut products.

Across northern Ghana, the harvest, storage and processing of shea nuts is done almost exclusively by women and young girls. In the UTA, women have formed a collective to harvest, store, and process shea nuts which facilitated initiation of this project with ISU and KNSUT in late 2019. Over the last year, progress has been made on experiments related to storage on shea nuts in hermetic storage bags, and assessment of shea nut quality after multi-month storage which has not been previously documented. In addition to the on-going research, a subset of women received drying tarps, hermetic storage bags and moisture measurement equipment to determine impact and assess affordability of adopting new technologies and improved practices.

To learn more about this Consortium project, listen to the interview with George Obeng-Akrofi, an ISU Ph.D. student who received his M.S. from KNUST, and whose dissertation research is focused on this project.