It’s six o’clock in the morning and, in the dim light, it’s difficult to make out people in the distance. Epiama Kandiel returns from the forest, a basket of shea nuts on her head and a small bucket in her hand. She says, “I woke up at five in the morning. With the help of a torch, I went into the forest to collect nuts.”
Mrs. Kandiel learned good harvesting practices at a training hosted by the Canadian NGOs CECI and WUSC as part of the Uniterra project. She explains, “At the training, they suggested to us that early morning harvests get good quality nuts, and this is why I am awake so early.” By harvesting early, she avoids the strong sun, which is harmful to the nuts.
Evelyne Kantiono is the secretary of the Dwi/Nye farmers group. She explains that, for the harvest, you have to wake up very early in the morning, use a clean container, and start sorting the nuts under the tree. The women only harvest ripe fruit that have fallen from the tree. Getting good quality nuts requires that the women meticulously follow a chain of steps.
After taking the nuts home, the sorting continues. Mrs. Kantiono explains: “Afterwards, we lay them out in a ventilated space [for not more than] three days until we obtain a sufficient quantity. Then we clean them well and boil the nuts in clean pots. After boiling, the nut changes colour and shines. At this moment, we drain them in baskets on tarps in the sun for one week or more, depending on the weather.”
During the drying process, the women must collect the shea nuts each night to avoid the dew. When it rains, they must cover the nuts.
When they’re dry, the nuts rattle in their shells if shaken. This is when they are packaged. The women in the Dwi/Nye group make sure they store the bags of shea nuts in a dry, clean, isolated, and ventilated place.
The group earns a good income from organic shea nuts. The nuts sell for 750 FCFA ($1.25 US) for 2.5 kilograms, compared to 350-500 FCFA for non-organic nuts.
The women take extra care when harvesting because they work with purchasers who require high quality nuts. Marie Marguérite Bationo is the accountant at Feminine Associations Union / Ce Dwa Nyee. She explains: “Our partner based in France demands organic butter. In order to do this, the harvesting area has to be certified by ECOCERT based in Ouagadougou. They carry out a study of the area to ensure that we do not cultivate cotton and do not use pesticides before certifying the area.”
They are able to trace the nuts from the tree to the final product. The farmers fill out forms and inspectors come by often to check. Mrs. Bationo explains: “From the nuts to the butter, they are classified by village with labels. Once the butter arrives at the final destination, the partner proceeds with verification. If there is a problem, we know from these labels who the batch belongs to and we call the concerned party.”
The women are aware of the importance of organic certification to their income—and also to their health. Kantiono Ebou belongs to the Yisè neba Association in Batondo village. She explains, “We collect only in the forests, not in the fields because of the chemical products.” She adds, “We choose organic because it is good for health, gets us away from many pains.”
For the same reason, the women are strict about hygiene. Mrs. Ebou says, “We need good hygiene throughout the preparation of the nuts, [including] clean containers and drinking water. Also, we cannot let the nuts sprout, nor let mould grow on the nuts.”
Good quality nuts fetch these women a good income. They say it’s worth the effort.
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.