A meeting of one of the shea nut 'picker' co-ops in Damongo, Northern Ghana.
When Global Mamas works with outside partners we’re intentional about selecting organizations working in-line with our values. This means businesses operating with full transparency, following the principles of fair trade, and prioritizing the well-being of the people involved with their work. Aligning these values up front makes it easy to be on the same page while doing business.
Meet Naasakle International: Our Bulk Shea Suppliers
We’ve now proudly partnered with Naasakle International to source our bulk shea butter for 10 years. The business was founded in 2000 by Eugenia Akuete after returning to her native Ghana to care for her ailing mother. As a midwife, Eugenia’s mum frequently used shea as a part of her midwifery practice.In the process of nursing her mother back to health Eugenia rediscovered this nutrient-rich butter, commonly referred to in Ghana as “Women’s Gold.” After decades in the US and UK, Eugenia saw far too clearly how easily these hardworking women could be exploited. She decided to dedicate her life to propagating self-reliance by partnering with hundreds of cooperative members, offering them fair wages as well as training for both quality and personal finances/health.
Eighteen years on, Naasakle International is now headed by Eugenia’s daughter, Naa-Sakle, and supplies hundreds of tons of conventional and organic certified shea to cosmetics producers globally. During these wintery North American months when shea products are in such demand to soothe the skin, we wanted to highlight some of the reasons why we’re proud to help connect their co-operatives with our customers around the world.
Shea Nut processors in Damongo. Left to right: Tahiru Aminatu, Bamibanirba (Opportunity) Atongo, and Adam Howa.
Putting People First
Naasakle purchases shea nuts from co-operatives of women in Ghana’s Northern Region surrounding Damongo, where the nuts natively grow. In 2017 they sourced nuts from around 1500 women, but as of 2018 will be buying from around 5000. Their goal is to support as many women as possible, as holistically as possible, while being able to maintain steady, sustainable growth (sound familiar??)
For shea nut pickers, this business is their primary source of income, and by selling directly to Naasakle they cut out the middlemen at market that typically take a cut of the money. To establish a fair price for the nuts Naasakle does a market survey, collecting price points from surrounding areas, and adds a premium when necessary to achieve fair prices, historically, that premium has been an additional 20%. There are no binding agreements that pickers HAVE to sell to them, and if a woman thinks she can find a better price for the nuts, she is welcome to do so. If she wants to save the nuts and thinks the price will be better later in the year, she can also wait! As part of the Global Shea Alliance, Naasakle uses scales to weigh their purchases and engages in consistent, transparent buying practices with transactions that are clearly documented— something that should be the norm but is not common with other buyers.
After partnering with certain pickers for some 9-10 years, many of the original women are growing older and Naasakle has created a retirement plan so that they can stop work without feeling financial strain. Other benefits for pickers beyond premium payments includes training organic practices and sustainability as well as an education fund, and a savings program. Together with local community members, Naasakle has started building warehouses (using local labor and readily available materials) that belong to the women-run co-ops. Here pickers are welcome to store other commodities, but the intention behind these structures is to allow the nuts to be safely stored, giving women the freedom to decide if and when the market is right for them to sell.
Keeping Jobs Local
Rather than taking the shea processing off site once the nuts have been purchased, Naasakle keeps it local, providing additional jobs in communities where there is a need for employment. One of their main processing centers is in Damongo and employs 27 women who process nuts in the traditional way. Processors wages are a 20% premium on area averages, just as the pickers receive a 20% premium on their nuts.
Instead of buying butter from the processors by the kg the processors are paid as employees. Naasakle pays their taxes, contributes to retirement funds, offers paid sick leave, production bonuses, and Christmas packages. They’ve also set up savings programs, invited doctors in to provide health trainings, and pay for national health insurance policies for the employee and up to 5 dependents (many of these matriarchs care not only for their own children, but grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc) –alleviating financial strain.
More Than “Just Business”
For those of you that buy our bulk shea because you love the product, we hope learning a little more of Naasakle’s story and the conscientious way in which they choose to do business makes your purchase that much ‘sweeter.’ We are proud to partner with sister organizations that also go above and beyond in their business practices, by providing additional resources and support to women in Ghana. We look forward to supporting them in expanding opportunities for families in the North in coming years.
Click here to read individual stories from the Mamas in Damongo.