Mali: Shea tree empowers women

Many women in Mali know all about the benefits of the shea tree. They’ve been gathering its fruit for years to produce soaps and various products to sell. Now, production hovers at 80,000 tons per year – but it has the potential to reach 250,000 tons and improve lives.

Vitellaria paradoxa (previously Butyrospermum parkii), commonly known as shea tree, shi tree, /ˈʃiː/ or /ˈʃiː.ə/, or vitellaria, is a tree of the Sapotaceae family indigenous to Africa, occurring in Mali, Cameroon, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Togo, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, Burkina Faso and Uganda. The shea fruit consists of a thin, tart, nutritious pulp that surrounds a relatively large, oil-rich seed from which shea butter is extracted.

The Shea tree is a traditional African food plant.

It has been claimed to have potential to improve nutrition, boost food supply in the “annual hungry season”, foster rural development and support sustainable landcare

The tree is perennial and starts bearing its first fruits when 10–15 years old; full production is attained when the tree is about 20–30 years. It then produces nuts for up to 200 years.

The fruits resemble large plums and take 4–6 months to ripen. The average yield is 15–20 kilograms of fresh fruit per tree, with optimum yields up to 45 kg. Each kilogram of fruit gives approximately 400 grams of dry seeds.

Shea butter fatty acid profiles

Shea butter is composed of five principal fatty acids: palmitic, stearic, oleic, linoleic, and arachidic (Table 1). The fatty acid composition is dominated by stearic and oleic acids, which together account for 85–90% of the fatty acids. The relative proportion of these two fatty acids affects shea butter consistency. The high stearic acid content gives the shea butter its solid consistency, while the percentage of oleic acid influences how soft or hard the shea butter is, depending on ambient temperature.

The proportions of stearic and oleic acids in the shea kernels and butter differ across the distribution range of the species. Ugandan shea butter has consistently high oleic acid content, and is liquid at warm ambient temperatures. Ugandan shea butter fractionizes into liquid and solid phases, and is the source of liquid shea oil. The fatty acid proportion of West African shea butter is much more variable than Ugandan shea butter; the oleic content ranges from 37 to 55%.

Variability can be high even locally, and a tree that produces hard butter can be located right next to one that produces soft butter. Nuts are gathered from a wide area for local production, so shea butter consistency is determined by the average fatty acid profile of the population. Within West Africa, shea butter from the Mossi plateau region of Burkina Faso has higher average stearic acid content, and is therefore harder than shea butter from other West African regions.
 

 

For centuries the shea tree and the butter produced from its fruits have been vital for the rural communities in Mali, a country facing extreme poverty in the midst of drought and internal conflicts. With the help of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), shea butter projects are empowering women and securing a sustainable income for some of Mali’s poverty-stricken communities.

United Nations, July 2012 – For centuries the shea tree and the butter produced from its fruits have been vital for the rural communities in Mali, a country facing extreme poverty in the midst of drought and internal conflicts. With the help of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), shea butter projects are empowering women and securing a sustainable income for some of Mali’s poverty-stricken communities.
 

Speak Your Mind

*

Copyright 2014 @ A Celebration of Women™ The World Hub for Women Leaders That Care