The shea tree has long been known as “green gold” to women in Western Africa. Many parts of the tree are harvested, but the greatest economic value lies in the shea nut. The butter produced from shea nuts is used in local homes and is now in demand around the world.
Until very recently, though, the green shea fruit had been discarded in the process of making shea butter. Women and their children snacked on the fruit as they worked in the field, but most fruit went to waste. All that changed when a women’s group in Burkina Faso decided to preserve and sell the fruit they enjoyed.
L’Association Songtaab Yalgre has earned worldwide acclaim for being the first to produce and sell shea jam. Sold under the brand name Karidelice – a combination of the French words for “shea” and “delight” – the new product has boosted employment in the highly successful women’s cooperative.
Marceline Ouedraogo is the President of L’Association Songtaab Yalgre, or ASY. She explains that shea fruit was known locally as a seasonal delicacy. By creating Karidelice, ASY found a way to preserve a fruit that grows in abundance for only a short period each year.
The company created two shea jam recipes. One uses honey to bring out the natural flavour of shea, which is similar in taste to a date or fig. Another is sold with no sugar added.
Mass production of shea jam became possible after an industrial engineering student from Canada worked with the women to develop quality control procedures. Karidelice is sold in Europe, and, as of March 2008, ASY was looking to market the product in the United States.
ASY holds the copyright for Karidelice and is still the only organization to process and sell shea jam. The innovation has won the organization numerous awards. Mrs. Ouedraogo explained that the money and fame brought by these awards would allow the organization to pursue other ways to process and market shea products.
ASY began more than 15 years ago, when 30 women got together to learn to read and write. Now, more than 3,000 women work as part of the organization, processing and selling shea jam and shea butter. ASY also operates an information centre aimed at improving women’s health – providing training on maternal health, preventing the spread of HIV, and combating the practice of female genital cutting.