Sheabutter – handmade

Collected – sheanuts

It can grow up to 300 years old and 15 to 25 metres high: The shea nut tree or African butternut tree. It grows in the wild and is found in 21 countries on the African continent (Guinea, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Sudan, Togo, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya). Where it is hot. The fruits are berries with large kernels, the shea nuts, which contain 50 percent fat. It is an important crop tree, but it does not make it easy for the beneficiaries. It is difficult to propagate, flowers at 20 years of age and does not reach its full yield until it is 50 years old.

Janet, Tina’s mother, and Aayarkum are in the process of processing the shea nuts they have collected. The production is not only laborious, but incredibly exhausting. Step 1, of course, is to collect shea nuts around the homestead. There is no plantation. They free the berries from their pulp, dry the nuts, then water them, let them dry again. Then they have to be laboriously crushed. Not a pure joy at 40 degrees, even in the shade.


Watering the nuts is the first step
Janet goes with the nuts to the neighbours to pound them there in the shadow


After the pounding the nuts look like red soil

One help is that there has recently been a mill within walking distance where the crushed shea nuts can be ground. The women had to do this work themselves as well. Water is added to the flour and the women start to make a pulpy, reddish mass out of the mixture by vigorously rolling it. To free the fat from all unwanted parts, water is added again and the fat is skimmed off by hand.


The mass of the sheanuts porridge is rolled for a long time until the right consistency is reached


The mass now has the right “density”

It seems like a miracle when the lardy, tall shea butter finally turns slightly yellowish, almost white. In order to sell it or use it for cooking, the women let the fat melt in the sun, harden again and form small balls. Shea butter can be stored unprocessed for up to four years, even in tropical heat. The women here cook with shea butter, they also use the fat to care for their skin or they sell the shea butter and earn a little extra money. Compared to the effort involved, I would say it is too little.


The shea butter is almost ready. The mass is melted again in the sun, then cooled down again. The shea butter balls are then formed from this.

For a small ball they get just 2 cedis, for us it is only 0.01 Euro. It is difficult for them to calculate how many hours they need to have the shea butter ready for sale. They say they cannot sell their product more expensively because there is too much competition. “All women make shea butter,” Janet says.


The women of the homestead brought their finished fat balls, the shea butter, in the late afternoon

Titus comes by and buys all the shea butter from the women and explains to me afterwards: last time, Chinese people came, took everything and didn’t pay a single cedi. He will take the large quantity (difficult to estimate how many kilograms there were) back to Accra, use it himself, give it to friends and acquaintances, maybe sell it. Titus has it packed in large sacks. Unfortunately, I cannot say how much he paid.

In the interview, Titus said that he had arranged for 100 shea trees to be planted so that the women could have a more sustainable local economy in the long term. He thought out loud: There are six villages around the district town of Fielmong, including Hiineteng. If the concept he is now testing for the Kuuyuor homestead, maybe it could be scaled up to all villages. Even though it will take a lot of time. The 100 shea trees have been decimated to 67 by animals and other circumstances and, according to Titus, could bear fruit for the first time in about 5 years. Now they are to be protected with fences against greedy goats and cows. He wants to apply for funding from foundations and start his project for all villages. “But it will take a lot of time,” Titus already knows.

It would be worthwhile to intensify the production of unrefined shea butter, but at the same time to organise distribution for the women. A kilo of shea butter ordered via the Etsy platform, for example, costs a good 17 euros. Here, the women get at most 1 euro for a kilo.

I am very curious to see where Titu’s idea will lead. His uncle, Aloysius Denkabe, formerly an English professor at the country’s largest university Legón University, is also toying with the idea of initiating a more profitable economy in the north.