Building Nigeria’s future on Shea nuts

This piece is inspired by a trip to Bida, Niger state for a social event which I grudgingly attended owing to the terrible state of roads leading up to the city. However, an interesting ‘discovery’ forced an extension of my stay after the event which was much to my delight.

On my way to the hotel accommodating guests for the event, i made a brief stopover at a small drugstore which was overlooking a non- descript compound that had a very low perimeter fence. I was drawn to the compound on the strength of the fact that it was practically astir- the cacophonous traffic of people, vehicles and all manner of means of transporting people and goods all created a sort of bedlam.

The entrance was also strewn with piles of huge sacks containing what I couldn’t tell at first owing to the distance from where I was. There you had people weighing up and loading the sacks onto waiting trucks. Curiosity got the better part of me resulting into an enquiry. A closer look revealed an appreciable number of women and children all busy cracking the shell of what truly were shea nuts confirming what I was told. Much to my shock, the operation was entirely carried out with different sizes of sticks.

The whirlwind of activities and crowd tell the story of the place of shea nuts as an important money spinner and means of livelihood. It has always played that role to so many, notably women who locally pick the nuts and add value in form of butter that’s in huge demand. Well, the shea butter is the fat extract of the nut containing saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, vitamins E, A, F and carotene which confers the many benefits it possesses.

Nigeria is sitting atop massive shea nuts goldmine – about 21 states lie within the shea nut belt. Instructively, Nigeria is adjudged as host to the largest number of shea trees in the world. In fact, about 60% of the shea trees are in the country according to Global Shea Alliance.

The global market for shea butter is phenomenal with different figures projected to the rapidly expanding market, which is on strength of the demand by the food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries. The European Union mandated a 5% usage of the butter in chocolate making and other confectionery; obviously replacing the use of cocoa butter. Over 90% of shea nuts exports serve the food industry according to Food and Agriculture Organization ( FAO).

Here in Nigeria, in fact, somewhere around Suleja, Niger state, I stumbled on a budding company creating business from transforming shea nut shells into environmentally friendly charcoal, Shisha cubes, Briquettes. And, the company has its sight on the European market for one of its products which will definitely be a boon to the economy.

We have always made a song and dance over the need to transit to a non-oil revenue dependent economy not least on agricultural products which is easily our long suit owing to oil now becoming a broken reed- its capacity to pump the much-needed foreign exchange in the economy has diminished with concomitant implications. Agricultural products have been doing quite well in non-oil revenue generation; though, far below capacity. And from my Bida experience, our preparation towards making our shea nut competitive and deliver the needed goods leaves much to be desired.

Reports of activities of illegal exporters/ smugglers with foreign involvement in Nigeria is rife and for the most part, huge quantity of the commodity is moved into neighboring countries which constitutes huge losses to the country. Despite Nigeria’s position on the global shea nut map; Ghana, holds the position of the leading exporter of the commodity and it is explicable in light of its more developed processing capacity.

The shea butter export is wholly exported in its unprocessed form- this is where the intervention of government and other critical stakeholders would be significant not least in the shift toward value addition which would assuredly foster enhanced earnings. Granted, so much have been done, the needle needs to move further in creating greater possibilities on this score.

Essentially, achieving the goal would not be for the want of know-how or capacity but commitment which has always been the weak link in the chain of our development.

Though, value addition has been a long-practiced tradition especially to butter. However, the local process needs to be supplanted with new practices to reflect global standard. In fact, the entire value chain needs to be exposed to improved handling/ processes that would ensure better returns to the different players. So, a future with shea nuts entail doing things differently in creating wealth out of its abundance in Nigeria.

Ungbo writes from Abuja via

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