Nelly Bassily | June 1, 2009
It’s four o’clock in the morning and the women of the Coopérative de Léo in southern Burkina Faso are starting their day. They head out to collect shea nuts that have fallen from the trees. After several hours, they return home to sort the nuts. They use the edible part of the shea to prepare meals. After feeding their children, it’s time for the women to help their husbands in the field.
There are more than 3,000 women in this shea butter cooperative. The group was founded in 2001 and received fair trade certification in 2007.
Aschlet Niangao is the organizational advisor for the Coopérative de Léo. She explains that fair trade certification has improved the quality of their product and doubled the price they receive. Access to new buyers has led to higher incomes and provided the women with a better quality of life. It used to take the women more than six hours to produce one kilo of shea butter. As a fair trade organization, they earned enough money to buy mechanized equipment. Now they can do the same job in an hour and a half.
Abou Dradin Tagnan is the manager of the Coopérative de Léo. He was in Ottawa, Canada, recently, to promote fair trade shea products to Canadian consumers. Mr. Tagnan explained how the cooperative obtained fair trade certification through FLO CERT, an independent organization based in Germany.
Mr. Tagnan described how an auditor from FLO CERT came to inspect the cooperative in 2006. FLO CERT requested information about the internal functioning of the cooperative and checked its official documents. Once the auditor arrived, an intense week of work began. First, He visited groups of women chosen at random. The women were asked about the sharing of information, and their knowledge of how the cooperative functions. Documents were verified to ensure that the women held information meetings within their respective groups. The inspector wanted to verify that the organization was run transparently and democratically.
Then the auditor inspected the methods of production. Was the operation environmentally aware? Were conditions safe for workers? Were operations free from child labour? These are some of the criteria that the cooperative had to meet before fair trade certification was granted.
The higher prices that come with fair trade certification allow the Coopérative de Léo to undertake social development initiatives. Ms. Niangao works with a literacy project. Because only 16 per cent of the cooperative members know how to read and write, there is a large task ahead.
Better incomes ensure that women can meet their families’ needs. The women can now provide their children with food and clothing, send them to school, and access health care when needed. They also occupy a better position within the family. Men see that the women are contributing a lot to the family, and are more willing to work with them as equal partners.