Last week, the Damongo Sunkpa Shea Women’s Cooperative in Ghana received the prestigious UNDP Equator Prize 2022. This local women’s group is an Indigenous-women-led shea cooperative near Mole National Park. The women’s successful business is a result of years of work by our partner organisation A Rocha Ghana, who established a number of Community Resource Management Areas (CREMAs) around Mole.

Header photo: Women from the Shea Women’s Cooperative © A Rocha Ghana

Written in cooperation with Godwin Evenyo Dzekoto and Jan Kamstra.

Mole National Park in Northern Ghana is the country’s largest nature reserve and home to species such as elephants, buffalos, various antelopes and an impressive diversity of birdlife. Since 2007, A Rocha Ghana has been working to establish and strengthen a number of CREMAs on the outskirts of Mole National Park which are managed by local communities. The CREMAs function as buffer zones, providing an extra layer of protection to the Park while at the same time supporting local communities in achieving sustainable livelihoods. 

Involving communities in conservation

Through these CREMAs, the communities living around the park are actively involved in the conservation of its biodiversity. ‘We established these CREMAs in response to a policy by Ghana’s Forestry Commission which sought to improve the relationship with fringe communities through their involvement in sustainable management of resources,’ Godwin Evenyo Dzekoto of A Rocha Ghana explains.

Sunkpa Shea Women’s Cooperative

A Rocha Ghana provided communities with microcredits, enabling people to start up several small businesses. One of them was the Sunkpa Shea Women’s Cooperative. The cooperative took a community-led approach to creating a sustainable and inclusive shea value chain that has provided economic opportunity to over 800 women within the 12 communities that are part of the cooperative. Economically, the shea tree is a very important tree.  Traditionally, the shea tree is protected and serves to provide diverse use and products especially for women. This includes butter, food, oils and fuelwood.

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Organic shea

The women’s cooperative currently operates an organic certification scheme for their shea nut, which means they receive premiums and can increase their incomes. These organic practices resulted in a large decrease in pesticide use.

This scheme has been set up with the support of Savannah Fruits Company with whom A Rocha Ghana was able to partner up. The company forms the link to the international market, provides training and buys a large amount of the shea products.

Sustainable production

The cooperative has led local initiatives that contribute to ecosystem restoration with indigenous tree species and traditional fire management practices. These interventions help mitigate wildfire risks in this drought prone region of Ghana. ‘The women and other community members use fire to prepare lands for farming and also have an annual “fire festival”, Dzekoto says. ‘Under fire management, we have fire volunteers who have been trained and equipped to help detect, prevent, and stop the spread of fires.’

Practices such as collection of shea in the locally zoned areas of production, no-take zones, and limited use areas are contributing to the conservation of biodiversity and enhancing landscape characteristics.

Improving employment and income

In addition to their sustainable harvesting of shea nuts, the cooperative has substantially improved their value addition capacity by making high-quality, organic shea butter and selling it directly to international buyers through the cooperative in partnership with Savannah Fruits Company. ‘As a result, employment and income in the women’s villages have increased. But this new shea production method is also more hygienic, which benefit worker’s health’, Dzekoto adds.

From a small start to great benefits

Sofia Abdulai, the secretary of the Shea Women’s Cooperative, recalls the origins of the group: ‘We started small by engaging traditionally in collection of shea nut. We normally just process the nuts for home consumption. When you are lucky, then middlemen from nearby communities come to buy and this wasn’t consistent.’

‘Fortunately, when A Rocha Ghana and partners came to work with us, they supported us in trainings, built warehouses, a processing center and helped us to register as a cooperative. We are really excited to know all these years are paying off as we see benefits from engaging in a CREMA.’

‘We are grateful to A Rocha Ghana, Mole National Park, Savannah Fruits Company (SFC), IUCN NL and other partners for the continuous support,’ Abdulai concludes.

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