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Burkina Faso: Women profit by protecting shea trees

It’s nine a.m. on an October morning and the sun is already beaming down with full force on Reo, a city 100 kilometres from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. October is harvest time, when the rains give way to an eight-month dry season. It’s a time of strong heat and the risk of wildfires. This is why a group of women are working amongst the shea trees, trees protected by law and valued as a source of income.

Rakes, hoes, cutters, and other tools in hand, the women clear the area around the shea trees. At this time of year, different groups of women across Sanguié province give special care to shea trees, in particular the young shoots, clearing all around them.

Lazard W. Soala is the supervisor of water and forests and head of the environmental services department in Reo. He says that, for shea trees, good agroforestry practices include protecting the young, lone shoots and helping them grow. The area around trees is cleared so that bush fires don’t destroy them.

Elie Bationo Nebie is president of the Union des Groupements Féminins de Réo / Ce Dwa Nyee, a women’s group in the area. She is one of the women on the ground in these “shea parks.” Hoe in hand, she says, “The protection of shea trees is close to our hearts; we eat because of shea, so we must also protect it. It is like gold for women.”

This is why they apply good agroforestry practices. As well as clearing around the shea trees, they place thorny bushes around the trees to protect them from hungry animals.

The shea value chain benefits many people, especially the women in Sanguié province who collect the nuts. Individual trees are sometimes at risk of being cut down for firewood or other purposes. But overall, the species is doing well, particularly in this province, thanks to actions carried out by environmental service technicians and women’s groups.

Mr. Soala explains: “To protect the shea species, we are leading sensitization activities where we inform the population so that they know the merits of the tree and are motivated to preserve and protect it. There are also control activities on the ground, which deter people from cutting the trees down.”

With the support of environmental service technicians, the women in Reo have set up shea parks to preserve this species that continues to nourish them economically. Mr. Soala says: “It’s a question of identifying an area which is well-populated exclusively or essentially by shea trees and marking it out to make it a shea park with particular protections to preserve the species.” The area then becomes the property of the municipality and access is forbidden without authorization from environmental technical services.

Mrs. Nebie says their association includes 64 women’s groups with a total of nearly 7,000 members. The association manages four shea parks in the area, which includes Sanguié province and part of Boulkiemdé province. The Kyon shea park is 50 hectares in size and the groups do everything possible to sustain existing shea trees, as well as planting and nurturing new growth to boost their harvest.

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.

Photo: UCF/CDN group leaders.