Sustainable Shea Nut Value Chain and Value addition for Job Creation and Economic Empowerment of Rural women and Youth in Northern Uganda

 Dr. Betty Udongo , Nile Tropical Industries Uganda Ltd.

Shea nut (Vitellaria paradoxa-subspecies Nilotica) is a key non-timber forest product (NTFP) occurring largely in off-reserve forests in many parts of Africa, including South Sudan. Shea nut trees grow abundantly in West Nile, Northern and Eastern Uganda. Shea Nut trees provide shade, their fruit is edible, and the nuts are used for oil and food. The tree takes 18 to 25 years to fruit in the wild and can live for a long time, between 200 and 300 years. 

Shea Butter is also called “Women’s Gold” because extracting the butter from the nuts gives income to hundreds of thousands of rural African women.  Shea Butter has been an inherent part of African women’s way of life for centuries. Shea butter is now being used in the manufacturing of cosmetics, confectionery and as a substitute for cocoa in the chocolate industry.  Unfortunately, most of the trees are endangered because of charcoal burning since it produces the best charcoal. The charcoal burners and brick layers are ignorant of the sustainable income they can get from value addition of the Shea nuts into Shea butter.  

The Ugandan Shea Butter is the best quality globally according to the Institute for Shea Butter in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. It is creamy, soft, silky and smooth with high oleic acid which contains most of the therapeutic substances and is liquid at warm ambient temperatures. It melts at body temperature and penetrates deep into skin delivering its vitamins and plant sterols where it is needed most. Shea Butter nourishes the skin with Vitamins A, E, C and F. Vitamins A and E help maintain the skin and keep it clear and healthy. They are particularly helpful for sun damaged skin and prevent premature wrinkles and facial lines. Vitamin C is a strong antioxidant and fights free radicals that cause cancer. Vitamin F acts as a skin protector and rejuvenator. It soothes rough, dry or chapped skin. These properties make Shea butter ideal for making sunscreens, body lotions, creams and hair moisturizers

­In the past two years Dr. Betty Udongo a Senior Research Scientist and trainer in products development embarked on awareness creation among the rural communities in the Shea nut belt on the economic value of Shea butter as a means of conservation of the tree. Her company, Nile Tropical Industries Ltd, works with women’s groups that collect the shea nuts, providing them with training on post-harvest handling. We have trained various youth and women’s groups from West Nile and Northern Uganda to make Shea butter products such as soaps, creams, lotions, margarine and chocolate for personal use and income generation.  We buy Shea nuts directly from the communities hence putting money directly into their hands and increasing their household income and improving their living conditions. Dr. Betty Udongo has formulated several Shea Butter-based products including a Sunscreen for Persons with Albinism. It is reported that 80% of death among the Persons with Albinism is due to skin cancer which is preventable by sunscreen. Moreover, Shea butter has a natural SPF of 6 and is the key ingredient in the sunscreen. The sunscreen production and the manufacturing of Shea butter line of cosmetics by Nile Tropical provides a sustainable market for Shea Butter and creates jobs for the women and youth in the Shea Nut value chain.

During a recent training on production of Shea butter products in Yumbe District in West Nile, the participants confessed that they have been cutting shea trees for charcoal making because of poverty and ignorance of the sustainable economic value of the shea nut tree. They blamed poverty as the driving force behind the destruction of the tree because it is the only source of income to feed their families and pay school fees. Therefore, there is need to create awareness and educate the community on the potential and sustainable business opportunity the Shea nut tree provides. A mature tree produces 25 kg of nuts every season. The processed nuts produce 8 to 10 kg of butter. The price of 1 kg of raw Shea butter is 25,000 Ugx wholesale and 35,000/-Ugx retail. Therefore, from one mature tree one can get between 200000/- 350,000 Ugx every season. Moreover, when that one tree is cut and made into charcoal, it only produces 6 bags which when sold at 25,000 Ugx earns only 150,000 Ugx. However, if they make soap and lotion/cream, they get more money because 1 kg of butter makes 18 pieces of bath soap which when sold at 3000 Ugx earn 54,000/- Ugx. That means if the butter from one tree is made into soap, they can earn up to 435,000Ugx sustainably per mature tree per season. Through awareness creation and training in product development the community can become Ambassadors to protect the Shea Nut Trees