Dr Hussaini Ibrahim is the director-general of Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC). In this interview with NKECHI ISAAC, he talks about Nigeria’s large Shea belt saying the nation can generate huge sums annually from the sector if well nurtured and developed.
Can you give us the background and benefits of Shea butter?
The Shea tree (Vittellaria) with sub species Paradoxa and Nilotica, is indigenous to the Guinea and Sudan Savanna zones. Shea extract has been traditionally employed for butter production from time immemorial and it has tremendous skin care, healing, and medicinal properties which makes its demand in various industries very high. Shea butter has also been exported since ancient time from Africa. The oil from the butter has low-fat content and hence, it is popularly used as a substitute for cocoa and palm oil, and this drives its market demand globally. Apart from this, the fruits from Shear trees can be eaten as a good source for quality vitamins and energy especially among rural dwellers. As a result, there is high demand for Shea butter in the international market mainly as a substitute for cocoa butter in the production of chocolate.
There is also an increasing demand for it in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. The high proportion of unsaponifiable matter which consists of about 60 – 70 per cent triterpene alcohols, gives Shea butter creams good penetrative properties that are particularly useful in cosmetics.
In view of its various industrial applications, Shea butter market is segmented on the basis of its application into different industries which include cosmetics and personal care, food, medicine and others. The demand in cosmetics and personal care industry is rising daily as a result of its inflammatory, skin care, and moisturising properties.
Where in the world is Shea butter from Africa exported to and what is the market like?
Shea butter market is segmented on the basis of regions which includes North and Latin America, Middle East and Africa, Japan, Eastern Europe, Western Europe and Asia pacific excluding Japan. Western Europe and North America demand high quantity and quality of Shea butter in the cosmetics and personal care industries. The cosmetics and soap industry in the United States is a most lucrative global market for Shea butter extracts.
In African countries, Shea butter is used as a waterproofing wax, cooking oil, hairdressing, candle-making, and as an ingredient in medicinal ointments. Let me stress that the demand for Shea butter produced in West Africa has increased by over 1,200 per cent over the last 10 years. In 2017, an estimated 450,000 tonnes of kernels were exported from Africa, with a market value of approximately $140m. It is a well-known fact that Nigeria has the largest Shea belt in the world and it is recognised as the world’s leading producer of Shea nut with a global production of about 45 per cent. The documented annual production is between 330,000mt – 350,000mt while the potential production was estimated at 800,000mt as at 2016. It must be noted that out of the 800,000mt of Shea nuts produced in Nigeria, only 20,000mt is processed into butter while the rest are exported to neighboring West African countries. This may not be unconnected to the inability of Shea butter produced in Nigeria to meet international standards. This shows that the Shea tree has the potential to contribute to the economic development of Nigeria, considering the wide range of industrial applications of the Shea tree, especially, the nut.
Do you think the nation has fully utilised its potential and contributed to the nation’s economic development?
The Nigerian Shea industry has the potential to contribute significantly to the economic and industrial development of the nation. Nigeria can generate up to $600m annually from the use of Shea butter by the cosmetics industry alone. Despite these, the potential of Shea butter and its industrial applications have not been fully exploited in the country. Secondly, the Shea tree has the potential to alleviate poverty generate employment for both rural women and youths. However, in Nigeria, Shea tree is not planted or cultivated as other domesticated crops but occurs naturally in the wild with adaptation to survive bushfire and other harsh conditions.
The Shea occurring in the wild could take up to a decade to mature into fruit bearing trees. They are usually maintained and managed on farmed parklands till maturity. On uncultivated reserves, Shea trees in particular are consciously not cut down for fuel wood. Thirdly, Shea trees do not usually yield fruit until they are 20-years-old, and do not reach full maturity until they are 45-years-old. However, once productive, they will continue to bear fruits up until their 200th year. An average of 15 to 20kg of berries can be expected each year from one tree, and one in three trees will be productive each year. However, the long period taken to reach maturity has discouraged its planting in organised plantations.
Up till date, the many actors in the value chain still export the raw nuts which yield very low dividends to the pickers at the community level as they are usually not equipped with the supporting infrastructure and machinery to process the fruits into butter and effectively be a part of the more profitable end of the supply chain. It is my believe that with adequate availability of process equipment, Shea butter production will not only be a profitable activity in the rural areas, it will also liberate many from poverty grip. This development constrained RMRDC to promote strategic development of Shea butter production locally. The support rendered to this sector is leading to increased production levels and Shea butter extraction for export.
RMRDC has the mandate to promote raw materials development in Nigeria, in this regard can you highlight some of the council’s project to promote the shear butter industry in Nigeria?
The council has initiated projects aimed at developing the Shea industry to produce sustainable raw materials for local industries, provide employment and improve the standard of living of the Shea nut growing communities. One of the areas the council intervened in the development of the sector was to upgrade the traditional method of Shea butter production. The upgraded technology has reduced the drudgery and laborious nature of the traditional processing method with respect to the processing time, quantity and quality of the final product; thus improving the efficiency of the production process. The upgraded equipment was deployed to a rural community in Agbakueji, Kwara State as a result of the existing cooperative association processing Shea nut in the area. This has catalysed the establishment of several processing centres around the area. It has helped in creating SMEs with attendant job creation along the entire value chain. Likewise, the council supported the AMANAWA Shea Butter Women Cooperative Society in Kebbi State with a Shea nut processing equipment to boost production and reduce drudgery associated with manual production process.
To reduce the long gestation period associated with Shea nut trees, RMRDC in collaboration with the National Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (NACGRAB), Ibadan embarked on the exploration and collection of Shea tree germplasm from five selected states of Oyo, Kwara, Kogi, Niger and Benue. The exercise was carried out to aid the domestication and improvement of seed handling techniques of Shea tree. In addition, seed handling training workshops were held for Shea nut farmers and processors associations in the five states. More recently, the council acquired eight hectares of land for the establishment of a model Shea nut processing centre in Gawu village, Abaji Area Council of the FCT.
In an effort to promote the export of Shea butter produced in Nigeria, the council has conducted detailed analysis of locally produced Shea butter obtained from various locations. Two samples of Shea butter’ one produced using the upgraded equipment from Agbaku-eji and the other using a Korean machine, were analysed in the United States in 2015 by the American Shea butter Institute (ASBI). The result from the locally fabricated machine was graded and compared with standards. Based on the results, training needs were identified and capacity of pickers and processors were built to meet required specifications. The result of the Shea butter produced using the Korean machine was used to provide technical advice to African Women Agri-business Network (AWAN) on the choice of machinery for the establishment of a Shea nut processing plant at Gwagawlada. The plant has since been installed and it’s in operation. Let me point out the fact although, the quality of the Agbaku-eji shea butter was not graded as belonging to the premium quality. However, the report indicated that it can be utilised by glue manufacturers, soap manufacturers, industrial lubricant producers, biodiesel manufacturers, paint manufacturers, European chocolate and confectionary manufacturers, livestock feed manufacturers, pet food manufacturers, biomass manufacturers, candle makers, Asian textile manufacturers, Asian chocolate and confectionary manufacturers.
What is the council’s agenda for this year?
This year, 2019, the council has concluded arrangements to carry out a detailed survey of Shea trees population in Nigeria and establish a Shea tree plantation to further promote the domestication of the plant. Also, one of our major plans of the council is to promote investment in the establishment of a Shea butter refining plant in the country and in addition, promote products diversification locally. Other major areas, our activities will focus on include but not limited to the establishment of mechanised processing centres, facilitation of certification of Nigerian Shea butter and production of a directory of Shea nut producers, pickers, processors, marketers, exporters and suppliers in the country.
Also, the overall goal of this programme is to increase production and processing, produce high quality nut and butter for the industrial sector, secure better market share for the processors so as to enjoy higher premium price for their products, generate more employment and income for the rural women and youths, reduce poverty and generate revenue for the country. Within the next few years our intention is to increase Nigeria’s share of the quantity and quality of the Shea butter exported to major industrial countries for foreign exchange earnings.
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