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Uganda, South Sudan Women Dominate Shea Butter Market

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Shea Butter has become one of the most marketable products among Ugandan and South Sudan women, earning them millions, impacting livelihoods and boosting local economies.

This was revealed during the recent launch of a regional project to boost the growth of shea trees and adding value to the product en route to the international market.

The project, titled ‘Generating increased pricing and new markets for the women engaged in the Shea butter value chains of South Sudan and Uganda,’ aims to improve participation of 7,400 women and men involved in the shea value chain both in Uganda and South Sudan.

“The project approach is to facilitate formation of cooperatives, build community knowledge on good post-harvest handling and equip beneficiaries with the capacity to access export markets,” said Sarah Kitakule, the chairperson of the Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Association (UWEAL), one of the implementing agencies.

She said as they laid ground for the project, UWEAL conducted the baseline survey to understand the shea value chain before rolling out the project in 24 districts within the Shea belt region.

The objective of the survey was to establish the status of the shea value chain in terms of harvesting, processing, community structures for support, trade and marketing, shea certification and export standards, policy and regulatory framework and conservation efforts.

One of the key findings of the baseline survey is that women dominate the shea trade by 70% much as men too play an important role.

“Shea nut tree has the potential to improve family income and even foster community development. However, at household level, processing of shea butter is still by traditional methods at 78% which results in low yields and affects the quality of butter,” reveals findings in the survey.

It further says majority of the shea products do not meet standards due to poor processing methods; product packaging, branding and labeling and prices differ district per district.

“One of the reasons for the aforementioned is the low access to credit and modern processing equipment. Additionally, men own productive assets [land, trees] and determine usage and women have to obtain permission to harvest, reads part of the findings.

The survey adds that in most cases, men determine how proceeds from shea sales should be used, whereas 28% of women have some control over their revenue which they spend on house hold expenses.”

The survey also revealed that there is a knowledge gap as most producers and processors are unaware of standards and export procedures.

“The quality of the shea butter is compromised by poor post-harvest handling methods [sorting, drying, storage and grading of nuts and kernels], coupled with weak industry linkages and high export costs.”

UWEAL further reveals that respondents decried the cutting of the shea trees for charcoal burning, bush clearing for farming and infrastructure development remain the greatest risk for the shea sector and is fueling climate change.

“This has affected the yields rendering nut harvesters’ to travel long distances to harvest shea fruits and nuts,” further reveals the findings.

The survey blamed a fall in shea yields to the COVID-19 pandemic, which did not spare the shea butter value chain as travel bans and market closures affected the marketing and distribution of shea nuts and shea butter.

UWEAL pointed out the fact that shea processors and traders are fragmented and work as individual entities without a universal forum bringing them together, resulting in lack of documented shea production capacity for the shea sector for Uganda and therefore difficulty to attract investors in the sector.

UWEAL, together with South Sudan Women Entrepreneurs Association (SSWEA) in partnership with Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) and the East African Women in Business Platform (EAWiBP) are the participants in the regional project.

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