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The shea tree, which grows only in Africa and whose fruit is harvested almost exclusively by women, is emerging as a real development tool in some of the world’s poorest countries.
Mali is one of the world’s leading producers of shea butter, along with Nigeria and Burkina Faso.
In the rural commune of Siby nearly one thousand women work at the local cooperative Maison du Karité.
“Once drawn from the pot, we proceed to the filtration with a rod. Then, we remove the impurities. The next day, we come back to stir the liquid and remove the impurities at the bottom of the pot. Finally, we do the filtering, knowing that the oil is ready before putting in the jars”, said Salimata Camara, a Maison du Karité employee.
According to the Global Shea Alliance (GSA), 16 million African women from Senegal to South Sudan live or survive off the shea tree, mainly in rural areas.
“One of the benefits of the cooperative is that it has provided employment for the women. Before the cooperative, the women’s activity was limited to the rainy season. But now it is year-round,” added Filfing Koumare, Maison du Karité store manager.
One of the challenges is the lack of training and financial support, particularly for marketing.
“One of the difficulties is the lack of support. There is no support. The fact that all the expenses fall on the House, that is a huge difficulty,” denounced Assitan Kone Camara, president of the Cooperative of Women Shea Butter Producers in Siby.
The mayor of the local town recognises the importance of this activity.
“They (Maison du Karité, editor’s note) contribute greatly today to the socio-economic development of the commune through the products made and sold on site. And, beyond that, you know that the Maison du Karité, the advantage of this company today is that it attracts a lot of outside customers”, concluded Daouda Keita, Mayor of Siby.
Demand for the product, used in particular in food (chocolate and biscuits) and cosmetics (creams), has exploded in recent years, driven by Western consumers, who are increasingly keen to buy products presented as organic or natural.