Djaratou Diasso is a 50-year-old farmer. She wakes up early in the morning to travel to the shea parks to gather shea nuts, a routine she has followed since earliest childhood. Thirty years ago, the shea nuts were not worth much. But today, they are like gold for local farmers.
Shea trees abound in Leo town, located 150 km from Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso. Many farmers in Sissili and Ziro provinces are members of the Nununa federation, where there are more than 40 shea parks. These “parks” are forests mostly made up of shea trees. They are used by farmers and jealously protected by municipalities with the support of the government’s environmental services. Apart from shea fruits, the forests are full of fruits like the wild raisin and néré, or Parkia biglobosa.
Farmers collect the shea nuts, then sell them to the Nununa federation. The organization transforms the nuts into shea butter, which can be used for cooking and is popular in many industries, including cosmetics and chocolate.
Mrs. Diasso is the president of the Nununa federation, which means, “butter” in the local language. About 5,000 farmers are organized in unions and associations to collect, treat, and sell the shea nuts. This has been a source of income for these farmers since they created a union in 2001, which became a federation in 2011.
This year, production promises to be good for shea nuts. Every morning, the farmers race to the forests to collect the nuts. In 2018, Mrs. Diasso gathered one tonne of shea nuts that she sold for 300,000 francs CFA ($512 US). She says, “Women like this activity. With the shea, they now have 5,000 FCFA bank notes.”
However, one challenge is that the women are not paid immediately for their work. Diasso Warama is from the village of Cassou in the same region and also harvests shea nuts. She says the women have to wait a long time before getting their money. The federation does not have the funds to pay the women directly, so must wait until they produce and sell the butter to pay the women.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Warama says shea harvesting is the best industry for women who want to earn a good income. She says: “I do not see any other activity as profitable as the cultivation of shea nuts. The benefits are inestimable. If you manage to collect three bags, you are rich.” Mrs. Warama envisages to get 400,000 FCFA ($683 US) this year.
Even last year, when production was not so good, Mrs. Warama still earned about 122,000 FCFA ($208 US). She says, “With this money, I paid part of my children’s school fees. I even bought a bicycle for the older one who is in 8th grade in high school.”
Bena Séraphine is a member of the Nununa federation. She is also the president of a women’s association and makes an income from shea products. She says that the extra income is important for women and their families. She explains: “Here, the man alone cannot handle all the expenses, [so] women have to help financially for children’s school fees, clothing, medical expenses, and to purchase some food items.”
Uniterra is a program implemented by CECI-WUSC, working in Burkina Faso with local partners in the shea sector to help youth and women access better economic opportunities. The objective is to reinforce the economic power of women and youth by developing their entrepreneurial spirit. The Uniterra program provided funding and technical support for the production of this story. CECI and WUSC are financially supported by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada, www.international.gc.ca.