Sustainability In Practice
In quiet Kasalagu, a village 6 kilometers from the center of Tamale, Ghana’s third largest city, SeKaf Shea Butter Village has operated since 2006. The processing center is the brainchild of Senyo Kpelly and Michael Kafui Bulla. The former high-school classmates turned business partners founded SeKaf in 2003 as an export company before starting the SeKaf Shea Butter Village in 2006 after realizing the potential of shea to alleviate poverty in rural Ghana. As a social enterprise, SeKaf aims to be an innovative leader in the global shea industry while providing high-quality raw ingredients and shea-based beauty products sourced through an environmentally friendly and ethical supply chain.
Since 2006, the Village has grown to include 91 trained and certified shea butter producers and works with an ethical and sustainable supply chain that sources from over 3200 women from 22 communities in Northern Ghana.
SeKaf’s philosophy is centered on the principle that no community can develop without business and commerce. In their view, poverty alleviation requires the active engagement of the poor in commercial activities and the cultivation of savings habits to build wealth.
In June 2014, SeKaf registered as a GSA sustainability program partner and aligned their activities with the program’s guidelines and work streams to promote women’s empowerment, decent working conditions, development of local communities, and the protection ecosystems. As a sustainability partner, SeKaf commits to undertaking projects that meet the criteria of the work streams and submit an annual report on their success.
Currently, Sekaf is focusing on the implementation of three of the GSA’s six sustainability program work streams: business development, health and safety projects, and conservation pilot projects. Business development trainings build the capacity of women’s groups to maximize the profitability of their shea sales while health safety projects address common challenges faced during collection and processing like snake bites and boiling burns. Conservation pilot projects aim to develop innovative strategies to conserve shea tree populations.
SeKaf’s training program follows a model they call the “6 Steps to Sustainable Livelihoods”: (1) Community Engagement & Group Formation, (2) Shea Technical Skills Training, (3) Establishment of Business Partnership, 4) Introduction of Village Savings & Loan Associations, 5) Establishment of Fully Functioning Cooperative, 6) Attaining Sustainable Livelihoods.
Maa Sana, leader of the SeKaf Shea Butter Village (pictured below) has led the women at the Shea Butter Village for the past five years. As the leader of the group, she ensures women are following quality standards and speaks to SeKaf on behalf of the women. Maa Sana’s work reflects the empowering nature of the cooperative structure. Since joining the Shea Butter Village, she said she has “learned how to be a good leader, how to be in a group, how to save money, and even borrow money with the help of SeKaf.” Women at the Shea Butter village earn an average 15% premium over current market prices to motivate them to supply SeKaf with premium organic shea nuts and shea butter.
SeKaf’s “Green Shea Pilot Project” focuses on health and safety trainings, and material usage efficiency, reflecting the GSA’s focus on health and safety, and conservation projects.
During health and safety training, the women learn about the effects of exposure to excessive heat and smoke, and how SeKaf is working with them to come up with innovative solutions to address those issues. SeKaf recently introduced 20 fuel-efficient stoves for boiling at the Shea Butter Village. Women are not only happy about how the chimneys divert smoke, but also about how much firewood they save – an average of 50%, translating into savings of 56,000 GHS per 200 metric tons of shea butter produced.
In the future, SeKaf hopes to continue to look to the GSA as a medium to scale up their pilot projects and to share best practices with the rest of the shea industry.