Northern Ghana: The importance of the shea tree in the livelihoods of people

Ghana is a developing country with a low-income economy where over 80% of the population lives in abject poverty. The natural resources, especially the mineral resources such as the gold, diamond, bauxite, manganese etc. of the country are concentrated in the mid-southern regions.

Because of the uneven distribution of these resources, all development such as industry, roads, electricity, potable water, schools and hospitals has been concentrated in these regions.

Only a few settlements had electricity in the northern sector until the Rawlings government embarked on extensive nation-wide electrification in 1989.

The imbalances in the distribution of development were due in part to the nature of colonisation that took place in the 17th century and in part to the political dispensation that prevailed in the country after independence.

The northern sector of the country covers approximately 2/3 of the country’s land space and has virtually no natural endowment.

This sector was therefore left out in all development activity, including basic infrastructure provision. Exacerbating this situation, the area lies in the dry Sudan and Sahelian savannahs where rainfall is incredibly low, erratic and unpredictable.

The people here are subsistence farmers who depend on rain-fed agriculture for the production of food crops. The crops they produce are mainly yam, cassava, maize, rice, beans (cowpea), groundnuts, cotton and recently cashew.

Part of the crops harvested is sold in the markets to generate income to meet individual domestic financial needs. The bulk of the farm crop is used to meet household food needs.

Cropping is also seasonal since it depends on rainfall. There is only one season of rainfall in this region and so cropping is once a year. Also, the incomes are very seasonal and once a year.

Consequently, the populations here are extremely poor and women are particularly worse off because they are the ones responsible for domestic protein supply.

When men go to the farms they bring in food crops for consumption while women have to supply meat and other family needs from their personal funds.

The combined effect of the interplay of the above factors is frequent food shortages, poverty amongst the women, disease and rapid depopulation of the area. Young people, including young women, drift to the southern sector in search of better living conditions and jobs.

Sheanuts made into paste ready for oil extraction

This mass movement of people from the north to the south has caused most of public facilities to breakdown and has given rise to serious demographic problems both for the northern and the southern regions of the country and has also resulted in severe economic disparities between the northern and southern populations.

As an appropriate response to the plights of the women in northern Ghana, both governmental and non-governmental organizations began to look for local resources that could be developed to generate income for the women.

The shea tree, whose fruits were already used by the women to generate substantial income to support their domestic needs, was therefore the most ideal candidate to rely upon.

The importance of the shea tree in Ghana’s economy became even more significant with the need to find substitutes for cocoa in the confectionery and cocoa butter industry in the early 1970s.

This led to the establishment CRIG sub-station in 1976 at the northern town of Bole, by the Ghana Cocoa Marketing Board (GCMB), in collaboration with the CRIG.

It also contributed to the formation of the Formal Education Division (NFED) of the ministry of education and the 31st December Women’s Moment in an effort to empower rural women in Ghana, which succeeded in organizing the women into co-operative societies or community based women’s groups in the three regions of northern Ghana.

These organizations provide the co-operative societies with loan and credit facilities at very moderate rates payable on an extended period to enable individuals to cope with repayment terms.

This initiative has, in the medium-term, alleviated poverty amongst the rural women and, in the long-term, provides continuous employment opportunities for rural women and young people.

The research station, apart from providing job opportunities for researchers, has provided avenues for increased production of shea nut yields. Consequently, shea nut output, for both export and local consumption, has increased tremendously over the last ten years.

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