Editorial: Let’s protect shea trees for their economic importance

Vitellaria Paradoxa (shea) tree 3

The persistent cutting down of shea trees for charcoal is putting the livelihoods of many in peril, especially women who make up the bulk of the labour force in the northern regions, the National Coordinator for Shea Network Ghana, Iddi Zakaria, has noted.

He is therefore calling for a law banning the felling or burning of shea trees to make way for other tree crops, such as mangoes and cashew, saying the practice will soon lead to the extinction of shea trees. Additionally, it is also depriving processors of the nuts as raw material for production, hence resulting in job losses and loss of income to both individuals and even government – in the form of tax revenue.

Shea Network Ghana is therefore calling for an immediate amendment of the Economic Plants’ Protection Act to include shea, so that shea trees destroyed by government to make room for developmental projects and other infrastructure will be paid for, and compensation made to women of the affected communities.

Hajia Alima Sagito Saeed, Chief Executive Officer for the Savannah, Women Integrated Development Agency (SWIDA) – who for years has been championing the fight against destruction of shea trees, is calling for shea conservation parks to ensure some lands are reserved for the projects to sustain the rural women farmers’ livelihoods.

Finance has been a major constraint to expanding shea butter exports from West Africa – hence the call to financial institutions, particularly rural banks, to come to the aid of those engaged in the shea value chain.

The economic importance of the shea tree cannot be overemphasised, particularly with the unstable world market price for cocoa and the need to find suitable substitutes for cocoa in the confectionery and cocoa butter industry.

Additionally, the shea tree has environmental significance for the country, particularly in the fight against desertification.

In recent years, the shea tree has gained importance as an economic crop because of the heavy demand for its butter, both locally and internationally. In recognition of the need to find substitutes for the rather expensive cocoa products, and to maximise economic exploitation of the vast shea resource in Ghana, the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) initiated scientific research into the cultivation and processing of shea nuts.

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