Back in 2006, Sarah Ejang, was just another woman in the village who collected shea nuts for sale as a means of survival in her rural area.
Fast forward to today, Ejang has become a domestic name in Olilim sub-county, Otuke district; she is known as a champion of women who are now making money from value addition.
“I could join other women every morning in the forests looking for the shea nuts which we could sell to middlemen, the earnings were meager but there was nothing we could do,” she said.
She also said that some of the nuts which were crushed manually were used to make ‘syrups’ for cough and cooking oil.
“At first we used to sell raw nuts but as time went, using local technology, we started making crude oils which was sold in the neighborhood,” she reminisces.
Ejang and other women were not contented with the peanuts they got from the sale of raw shea nuts; they decided to form a group where they would mobilize capital and go commercial.
“With the group, we hoped the wild nut could bring hundreds of women out of poverty and revive the local economy tattered apart by years of conflict,” she said.
Ejang mobilized 15 women to form Moo Yao Women’s Group; the group instantly went commercial but the challenge was expertise and machinery. The group started in 2014 with only 20kg of cold press (shea butter).
Cold pressing involves extracting oil and nutrients from the shea nut using an instrument called an expeller press; the expeller separates the cover of the nut from the nut which is later crushed to produce oils.
“It was a gamble! We took 10kg and used it to make cooking oils; the rest was used for making cosmetics and soaps, although the incomes weren’t that much, life improved a bit,” she said.
The group now processes up to 100 kg per month; some of the products include hand and body lotions and toilet soaps.
NEMA, UEPB step in
Although Ejang and her team seems to be doing well, they still have some challenges; some of them include the use of a manual expeller press, bad roads and lack of modern equipment for transportation.
“The roads are bad; so, access is hard but also we need equipment for transporting the shea butter to the markets,” she said.
In 2013, National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and local governments of Otuke, Kaabong, Kotido and Abim started a programme to preserve the shea tree. They also had to sensitize people to earn from the tree rather than burn charcoal.
Other districts where shea tree is found include Kitgum, Agago, Pader, Alebtong, Dokolo, Soroti, Serere, Amuria, Katakwi, Arua and Nebbi. James Okiria, the project manager, Kidepo Critical Landscape Project, which preserves the tree, said government got funding for preservation.
“This project was funded by Global Environment Facility at a tune of $3.8m,” he said.
The funds for the four-year project that kicked off in 2013 were meant to see the sustainability of shea trees and how they could be turned valuable. Elly Twineyo Kamugisha, the executive director, UEPB, said shea nut tree has environmental and economic benefits.
“We realized it’s a source of income for women, especially for those who collect the nuts between April and September,” he said.
“Every week, at least three tonnes of shea nut oil value added products are exported to Germany, Japan, Kenya and India,” he said.
UEPB has also come up with National Shea Butter Export Strategy; under the strategy government and exporters are working towards realizing a target of 200,000 to 500,000 tonnes of shea butter per year,” he said.