For the past twenty years, the shea industry has experienced a growing demand for shea butter, mostly due to an increase in global demand for vegetable oils and fats. This trend is foreseen to continue, and the Global Shea Alliance activities seek to reinforce it by unlocking new markets for shea products. As we consider the future of our industry, we are led to wonder where it will stand twenty years time? What will happen to shea nut collectors? Will the industry be geared toward African or international consumers? How do we build a resilient industry for the 21st century? This is what is at stake in building a sustainability strategy for the industry, and building our future starts now.
Three major challenges should be given great consideration:
- The quality of shea nut production has been declining. Falling quality is detrimental to the image of the industry and decreases profitability for shea nut processors, thereby diminishing competitiveness for the whole industry.
- Shea nut collectors are prevented from fully reaping the benefits of their labour and have been alienated from markets. Their labour is instrumental to the industry, and must be developed.
- Observers have identified a decline in the number of shea trees that is foreseen to continue in the future.
At the 2013 annual conference in Abuja, Nigeria, members voted to form a working group to refine the draft standard so that it benefits all members and addresses the challenges facing the industry. The Sustainability Working Group consisted of 14 members and stakeholders including brands, suppliers, women's groups, and non-profit organizations. To address Sustainability in the industry, the Sustainability Working Group created a proposal for a Sustainability Program, which included sustainability guidelines, three initial project concept notes, and qualifications for program participation. The proposal was unanimously approved by members of the GSA during the General Assembly meeting at "Shea 2014: The Industry Unites". The now approved Sustainability Program includes the following sections:
- Project Concept Notes - The working group issued three projects for immediate funding and implementation in partnership with our public and private sector members and stakeholders.
- Sustainability Guidelines - The guidelines are a set of voluntary principles and implementation criteria that promote women's empowerment, decent working conditions, development of shea producing communities, and the protection of ecosystems.
The Sustainability Program document can be downloaded on the right side of the page. Supporting documents for the development of the proposal can be found in the resource library.