Birds, Bees & Business

The project Birds, Bees & Business combines the restoration of biodiversity and business activities in the shea value chain. In Burkina Faso, ICCO and Vogelbescherming (Bird Life Netherlands) join forces in this innovative approach. Together they help to create a rich landscape that provides food and sustainable income for local communities, while it allows nature to restore itself. Economy and ecology are linked in a unique way.


Burkina Faso

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In Burkina Faso people are poor; many of them struggle for their livelihood. The impact of climate change is evident. The ecosystem rapidly deteriorated because of slash and burn agriculture and grazing. Illegal wood chopping for firewood, charcoal and construction timber, has further degraded the shea landscape. Soils have become less fertile, and more prone to erosion. This is a threat to migratory birds, who fly from the Netherlands to West-Africa to hibernate.

This area is also home to the shea tree, source of shea nuts from which shea butter is produced. Due to its many qualities and richness in vitamins and fats, the global demand for shea butter grows fast. The shea industry has grown 600% in the past 20 years according to the Global Shea Alliance. Traditionally women are the ones who collect and process shea nuts. Many of them are not (yet) connected to global supply chains. By linking them to these value chains and improving the quality and quantity of their shea nuts, they can use the huge market demand to build a sustainable income. However, the deteriorating landscape is starting to affect the shea trees as well.


Vogelbescherming and ICCO see the market potential of shea as an opportunity to invest in nature restoration, so that both people and birds sustainably benefit from it. Shea nuts have high value for skin and hair preparations as well as for nutrition. While the pulp contains vitamin C and has anti-inflammatory properties, the kernels have a high fat content and a strong moisturizing effect. Today shea butter is an important ingredient in many cosmetics, sold by companies such as L’Occitane and The Body Shop.

In Burkina Faso, ICCO – together with Vogelbescherming and financed by the Dutch Postcode Lottery – works on the restoration of nature by creating a diverse, mosaic landscape. In this ecologically sustainable landscape biodiversity is restored and shea trees flourish, while there is also room for sustainable agriculture, pasture for cattle and woodlots for firewood. The variety of trees and plants attracts bees and other insects, and therefore also birds.

Biodiversity attract more pollinators

Research shows that biodiversity and the intensity of natural pollination are closely related: increased biodiversity of plants and trees attracts more different types of pollinators: bees and other insects. More diversity in pollinators, who are each active during different periods, in turn stimulates biodiversity. While birds benefit from the restored habitat, it also has a positive impact on the production of shea nuts. Women benefit from improved shea butter sales and the industry benefits from better quality. This approach is also replicable in other West African countries, like Mali or Ghana.


We create a sustainable landscape,

Local farmers increase their crop yields as crop pests and diseases reduce and the soil becomes more healthy. The farmers plant new plants and trees, like acacia trees. This way they prevent erosion, while the leaves are usable as fodder. Beekeepers stimulate pollination of shea trees and other food crops. Shea pollinators, namely ‘stingless’ and ‘honey’ bees, can increase fruit production by up to 2.5 times! Migratory birds can find enough food, rest and water to survive.

We create sustainable business

We help women organize themselves into cooperatives, improve the quality and quantity of their shea production, so (international) buyers pay a good price. Using efficient cookstoves for processing into shea butter saves a lot of firewood (and trees) and reduces CO2 emission. In this sustainable production chain we work together with Olvea, a company that purchases shea butter and also sees market opportunities for beeswax and oil from balanites trees.

We connect stakeholders, to ensure research and lobby activities

We stimulate cooperation between all parties – local communities, companies, governments and researchers- and application of relevant knowledge to secure the continuity and possibilities for upscaling.

BBB infographic


Birds, Bees & Business is based on the sustainable triangle, in which people, nature and business benefit:


  • ICCO’s Fair Climate Fund (FCF) advises companies on making their value chains climate-neutral.
  • Vogelbescherming NL and BirdLife Partners have extensive knowledge about birds and their natural habitat (nature and biodiversity). Their strong network of local nature conservationists is an important plus here.
  • In the sustainable shea value chain, business partners from the private sector are also included, such as Olvea, bulk supplier of vegetable oils.
  • The project works with women cooperatives who are active in the value chains of shea, honey and beeswax. These are the Nununa Cooperative Federation in Sissili and RPBHC in Houet.

In support of this, we collaborate with research institutions such as ICRAF and the network organization Global Shea Alliance.


Women who sell shea
People who benefit from restoration of biodiversity
Exported shea butter from West Africa
350,000 tons



Collector and processor of shea nuts

“Working in the shea value chain is an opportunity to have an activity that brings women together and give us – women – a revenue”

Tom van ‘t Hoff


“The processing of shea butter is now done in Burkina Faso, so we really create added value in the country of origin”

Ataoulaye Bah

ICCO’s Deputy Regional Manager for West Africa

“ICCO provides technical assistance, both to the private sector but also to the women organizations on the ground to make sure that they can do business together. We build bridges”

Shea cooperatives leaders linked to STARS

‘’ It is very difficult to work with ICCO if you don’t have vision and motivation on what you do but they help us to perform and get our financial independence to drive our development process. STARS is really useful for our cooperatives”


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