BakeryandSnack Chat podcast: The story of shea collecting, the women behind it and BLC’s contribution
This content item was originally published on www.bakeryandsnacks.com, a William Reed online publication.
The speciality oils and fats business has played a leading role in the sourcing and processing of shea for more than half a century and embarked on its sustainability strategy to ‘build a better tomorrow for shea communities’ in 2017.
The three-pronged approach focuses on empowering shea collecting women, creating socio-economic value in their communities, and conserving and regenerating the shea landscape.
The launch of the Where Life Grows campaign coincides with the official inauguration of the company’s cutting edge shea butter processing facility in Tema, Ghana. The facility is BLC’s first shea processing plant in Africa and pegged as ‘the largest of its kind on the continent’.
“Our latest investment in Ghana plays a critical role in strengthening BLC’s global infrastructure for processing and supplying high-quality shea products to our customers around the world, while also bolstering the entire ecosystem of regional crushers and local shea collectors in the West African region,” said Aaron Buettner, president of BLC.
“The facility allows us to meaningfully support and empower the local shea communities through the transfer of knowledge of value adding processes and by investing in local skills development.”
According to Antoine Turpin, GM, West Africa, BLC, the facility – which employs 73 people, mostly from the local community – is a fully automated solvent fractionation plant that processes raw shea butter made from locally collected and crushed shea nuts.
“Its strategic location not only allows for a more efficient production process, it also delivers on BLC’s commitment to building a more sustainable supply chain for shea,” added Turpin.
Tree of life
Shea butter is made from the fruit of what the locals fondly call the tree of life (Butyrospermum parkii) that grows wild in the dry savannah ‘shea belt’ in West Africa.
The trees bear fruit after 15 to 20 years, but only reach their maximum production capacity after 45 years. The window to collect the fallen nuts is extremely limited (between June to August) and one tree provides approximately 25-55kg nuts (around 5-6kg of kernels) per annum.
The two ingredients extracted by fractionating shea butter – shea olein and shea stearin – are widely used in both food and non-food products. In food, it’s used primarily by the bakery and confectionery industries, performing well in goods like puff pastry and cakes. It is also mixed with other oils as a substitute for cocoa butter. According to Research and Markets, demand for shea butter will grow at a CAGR of 6.27% by value and 7.9% by volume until 2024.
More than 16 million women in rural Africa and their families depend on the shea industry to financially support their households and contribute to their communities.
A founding member of the Global Shea Alliance, BLC directly sources from female-led cooperatives.
It has also contributed to projects designed to increase the value and quality of the collected crop, such as building warehouses and developing partnerships with local crushers, which in turn increases the financial gain for the cooperatives.
Together with the Alliance, BLC runs specific training programmes for the collectors and has also supplied them with tools, such as shea rollers, to ensure their safety – collecting comes with the risk of being bitten by snakes and scorpions – and to make the process more efficient. It also co-funded the construction of a school in northern Ghana for the children of collectors.
Furthermore, the company is committed to conserving the shea landscape through reforestation and parkland restoration projects, and has invested in energy-efficient stoves to supply to the shea communities.
BakeryandSnacks chats to Laura de Gruijter, sustainability manager for Shea at BLC, on the company’s hands-on approach in connecting with these women and finding out exactly what they need to create socio-economic value in their communities.