In 2009, I formed a company called Laeh Shea, LLC a natural product company primarily using shea butter. When shea butter healed my eczema, I wanted to know everything there was about shea butter. Boy, did I have no clue what would evolve from this endeavor. In 2015, after five years of working with The American Shea Butter Institute who grades the purity of shea butter and many shea producing countries, I decided I wanted to get into the social and political aspects of this growing cash crop. I was naive. I was a novice. I wanted first hand information of the stories that I heard when delegations from Africa would come to our conventions. I began forming relationships with many of the delegates. I would talk to these women and they would tell me the horror stories of how the butter is extracted in dangerous terrain often infested with poisonous snakes. How they had to walk miles to the bush to gather the nuts, with little to no tools at all. And how some would die trying to pick the fruit. I felt sorry. I wanted to do something to help them. In my ignorance, I was thinking that I could just help them with getting tools. But, the problem was much bigger than that. These women were experiencing rape. For that, I didn’t have a tool or the education to help them to fight.
The women who produce shea nuts are disproportionately taken advantaged of. From the time the shea fruit is gathered to the market place, the women have been political and systematically raped. The women are told that the quality of the nuts are inferior so that they have to sell the nuts to cooperative groups who purchase the nuts for chocolate. Shea Butter is a cocoa butter equivalents which simply means that the shea nut can be substituted for cocoa due to the chemical profile. The problem with this model is that the women get less value for nuts for chocolate than they can for shea butter.
Only recently has there been a drive to educate the women to produce quality shea butter. As much as the government would like us to believe that quality is the problem for shea butter production, it is not. The government of shea producing countries can educate and provide clean water, equipment and tools to help them.
In 2015, I pointed the finger at everyone and did not realize that I was a silent collaborator. I had a shea butter based company and was reaping benefits off the back of these women as well. My purchasing of their shea butter was to my benefit not there’s. At the 2015 ASBI Convention, it was clear to me that I needed to do more and I needed to wake up.
I began to find out what would truly help the women. While our convention educated the women on creating quality shea butter, none of the shea producing women could afford to come here and learn. The people who attended the American Shea Butter Conference were mainly wholesalers of shea butter. Many of which who do not share the same color of those producing the shea butter.
I hope to organize a group with people who truly have feet on the ground. I learned that there is no fair trade when it comes to shea butter. Our big corporations are the culprits who unfairly pay the wages the women need for basic survival. I learned many of the companies that I buy supplies from for my company who believe they too are doing fair trade agreements and not aware of what really is going on with the women shea producers. If 90% of shea nuts are used to make chocolate and the other 10% is for shea butter and shea cooking oil. The rural women can make up to 10 times the amount of money if they produce shea butter rather than sell the nuts for chocolate. So, please help me to understand if any us here in the US can say we practice fair trade when it comes to shea butter.
If you have read this much of my journey, then you may surmise that I am quite passionate about this. I have organized a company to help educate, empower and provide resources to shea producing women. I specifically, represent 10,000 women villagers who need access to resources. We have begun education programs for producing Grade A shea butter. This year represents the first time the curriculum is being taught to these women in the bush. While, we are excited about the education, raw materials and equipment are still needed. I have found a tool here in the USA that greatly aid these women in shea production. The tool I have helped develop can be used for the shea nuts. The women also need machetes, boots and gloves. These are basic tools in our country that we have in abundance.
I am raising money to purchase and/or deliver some of these items to Burkino Faso and Cote d Ivoire, Africa which is the northern region of Ivory Coast. I am planning a trip in September 22- October 3, 2016 with a small delegation and I have estimated the expenses for 10 days for a delegation of 3 people as well as freight for all the supplies to be estimated in access of $50,000.
Here is the breakdown of cost for a facility in Burkino Faso with Empower Village
The facilities primary equipment package includes the following components:
• Stainless steel hammer crusher $1,172.00
• Stainless steel roaster $1,534.00
• Grinding mill $1,003.00
• Mechanical stainless steel churn $1,770.00
• Manual filter press $ 840.00
• Automatic filler with manual weld sealer $ 680.00
• Two 10 HP 50 HZ electric motors $1,298.00
• Motor mounts & accessories $ 402.00
• Motor setup costs $ 300.00
• Misc. accessories & equipment $4,000.00
• Installation & basic equipment training $ 450.00
Total equipment package $13,449.00
Shea Butter manufacturing training $ 500.00