Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

Can shea nuts help the women of Mali?

By Reuters Staff
March 7, 2009

By Rainer Schwenzfeier

How can African countries earn more from their raw materials. And how can the women of Mali improve their ability to trade with buyers in the West?

Korotouma Doumbia, a 29-year-old from south-west Mali, has no education or formal skills but she manages to earn the family income. She harvests shea nuts and turns them into shea butter, a popular ingredient in many western cosmetics.

The shea tree grows wild in nearly 20 countries in Africa and Mali has more shea trees than any of its neighbours. They are often cultivated for their oil and Korotouma’s village has some planted trees, but they also harvest the wild trees further from the village. 

“The trees belong to all of us, because nobody has planted them. All the women from the village can harvest wherever they like,” she told Reuters Africa Journal.

The women collect as much as they can carry. But about two thirds of Mali’s shea harvest stays on the ground. The trees are spread out and the women have no other means of transporting their harvest than carrying it on their heads.

One organisation that has tried to help Mali’s women earn more from their shea butter is the Development Trust Association or ACOD, a non-governmental group based in Bamako.

They buy Shea butter from farmers at a minimum price and then either resell it internationally or use it to make cosmetic products.

Elisee Sidibe, the group’s Permanent Secretary, says shea butter is an excellent way to fight poverty in rural Mali. “So if the government and its partners support the shea industry and help position it on the international market, then we could dramatically reduce poverty among women in rural areas.”

But the problem is that most women aren’t producing high-grade shea butter that can be sold internationally. They can sell their produce to the local market, but they get much less money for it than they could expect if they had access to better means of processing the butter.

The money they earn in the market is small compared to the profits made by big international cosmetics companies that use African shea butter in their creams and lotions.

Local experts believe that with more investment, the shea butter industry in Mali has huge potential for growth. This would impact not just the lives of women in rural areas, but also the country’s overall economy.


Thanks for generating more awareness on Mali sheanuts and on shea butter in general. Please check for a forthcoming event to promote shea business!


This story is right on the money, literally! Shea represents a tremendous economic opportunity for rural West African women. Globally, people realize that natural products are ideal for many reasons, they are not only good for people’s health but also environmentally friendly. That’s why USAID’s West Africa Trade Hub is organizing “Shea 2009: Optimizing the Global Value Chain,” which will bring together people working at every level of the shea industry – from women who harvest nuts to local processors to international buyers of this important product. Visit for more information.


Women in Africa who are producing shea butter might benefit by forming an organization/union (?) whereby their product is 1) better produced – quality shea butter, 2) to generate better pricing, 3)develop business plans, becoming entrepeneurs, 4) open bank accounts, 5) participate in reinvesting in the local economy/villages, by perhaps 6) developing/building schools for children, paying the teachers well, whom in turn teach finance and business management to the children, as well as English, etc.

Mali women have phenomenal potential to market their product worldwide; westerners should help these women, free of charge, to develop sound business plans which would sustain their villages/culture now and in the future. The women could then participate in microfinancing other women in other villages to get projects started….

Being a westerner, this next comment may seem out there, but instead of the women carrying the nuts/product on their head, how about starting a program that builds bicycles, narrow wheelbarrows for narrow paths, rickshaws, etc. to get the product to the market easier? Maybe not…maybe sauntering down a path with a basket on their heads, after laboring all day, is a way to unwind and relax their backs from so much bending. Perhaps pushing a wheelbarrow would bring on more back aches. I do think bicyles, wagons, rickshaws would be beneficial… a cooperative could start, creating a business plan for these vehicles, as well as making them onsite….developing skills, becoming self-sustaining, and entrepeneurs all at the same time! Ya-hoo!

Posted by renee | Report as abusive

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see