International Women’s Day: Shea Provides Opportunities for Women

On International Women’s Day – March 8 – we want to highlight all women working in the shea sector. Shea butter is a well known ingredient in cosmetic products and food, and it’s also called women’s gold. Why? Because it is mainly women who collect and process the shea nuts into shea butter, and sell them on local markets. However, the shea tree is under threat due to desertification. 

International Women’s Day: Shea Provides Opportunities for Women

Shea butter is the only product that is completely produced by women. An estimated number of almost 20 million women is directly involved in the shea sector in West and East Africa.

Maïmouna Adana, one of the women who works in the shea sector: “We see shea as a gift from God. The work of collecting shea nuts and processing it into butter is hard, but we also make money from it. This way we can send our children to school. And we take care of it. Mothers smear their children with it, and if someone is injured, it works as a cure ”.

Growing market 

Nowadays there is a growing international market for shea butter, which is used in food (90%), cosmetics (9%) and medicines (1%). Shea has a market share of millions of dollars and accounts for a considerable share of foreign exchange inflows for 7 West African countries, including Burkina Faso. However, the women at the beginning of the chain hardly benefit because they sell their shea locally and are dependent on middlemen who pay them low prices. But the worldwide demand for shea is greater than the supply. In this, ICCO (Part of Cordaid) sees opportunities for West African women! 


However, it is questionable how long this opportunity will continue to exist. Although shea nuts are still largely available, it is only a matter of time before this will decline. This is due to the desertification of the landscape. This makes soils less fertile and prone to erosion. Logging is a major problem here: many farmers burn shrubs and trees to use land for agriculture. A lot of wood is also cut for firewood: for cooking or for processing shea into butter. All of this causes the shea landscape to deteriorate and the shea tree to be endangered.

Solution: Birds, Bees & Business

To tackle this problem, Cordaid decided to join forces with the nature organization Bird Life Netherlands. In the Birds, Bees & Business project, supported by the Dutch Postcode Lottery, we are working on nature restoration and market opportunities for 22,000 women in Burkina Faso.

We are planting 440,000 new trees – including the shea tree – and restoring biodiversity to halt desertification. Bees and other insects can then pollinate and this gives birds a place to hibernate again. In the long run, this restoration of biodiversity ensures more shea trees and nuts. We train women in the best ways to produce shea butter sustainably, with good quality that meets international market standards. The women form cooperatives that are connected with regional and international market parties that pay a good price for the product. 

Sonia Nare, a manager of a shea cooperative: “The benefits of this for our shea cooperative are great. We sell more shea, which means we earn more as women”.

In addition, Cordaid – together with FairClimateFund – is introducing improved cooking stoves that require less wood and release less CO2.

Assita Dembélé: “Where we needed five kilos of wood for the old stove, we only need 2 kilos for the improved stove. The new stove also releases much less smoke, which is better for our airways”.

Get to know more about Birds, Bees & Business.




As of 1st January 2021 ICCO has joined forces with Cordaid and continues as one organization under the name Cordaid.

ICCO’s international website will remain online for the time being and can be visited here or go to Cordaid: