In the Sissili and Ziro provinces of central west Burkina Faso, farmers know the value of the shea tree, known scientifically as Vitélaria paradoxa. The tree is the dominant species in more than 40 forests across Burkina Faso, covering almost 6,700 hectares.
Shea provides valuable income to the farmers who cultivate its precious nuts. But the shea tree is threatened by various factors, including climate change and human activity. This worries the women of the Nununa federation who process shea nuts.
The shea tree is fully protected, and the forest code of Burkina Faso forbids cutting it for any reason. Those who do cut it face imprisonment and other sanctions and fines.
Djaratou Diasso stands up for the shea tree. She explains her passion, saying, “Shea trees are like our children. We, the women of the Nununa federation, do not accept it to be cut anymore!”
Because the tree brings them a lot of income, the 5,000 farmers in the federation are very vigilant about protecting it. In 2018, Mrs. Diasso received 300,000 FCFA ($508 US) for every tonne of shea nuts she collected and treated. In rural Burkina Faso, this is a significant amount.
Mrs. Diasso is the president of the Nununa federation. She sets an example for how to defend the shea tree. She says: “Five years ago, my husband cut shea trees in his field. But it has not been easy for him because we reported him [to local authorities] and he had to run away from the village for months before returning.”
Diasso Warama also rose up against her husband when he wanted to cut a young shea sapling to make space for his millet crop. She remembers telling him not to cut the tree. At first, he didn’t respond, but he finally chose not to cut it.
Moulaye Barro is the head of the forest service in the municipality of Cassou in Ziro province. He says that shea trees are cut for firewood, processed into charcoal, or cut down to prepare crop fields. Woodcutters also use the tree to make mortars, pestles, and other domestic objects or musical instruments.
But it’s not just human activity that is threatening the shea tree. Years of drought and scorching heat have killed many trees. Bush fires destroy many trees. Parasitic plants are also a problem, as they rob the shea trees of nutrients and threaten their survival.
Faced with these threats, the Nununa farmers worry about the source of their income and how to protect it. They restore shea forests, with support from government environment technical services. Each year, during the rainy season, they sow shea seeds, and plant young seedlings in nurseries in protected spaces or shea forests. They construct firewalls to contain bush fires and remove the parasitic plants.
In the face of these tough circumstances, the 5,000 farmers in the Nununa federation continually fight to defend the shea tree because it brings them a lot of income. In 2018, these women earned more than 200,000,000 FCFA ($340,000 US).
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.