For our sixth blog about key people who make a remarkable contribution within the shea supply chain, we spoke with Habiba Nyarko Agyemang, business advisor at Agriterra, an organization specialized in cooperative development and professionalization. Habiba provides cooperative and business trainings and coaching sessions to women groups in the Nasia and Nakpaya communities in Northern Ghana to improve the livelihood of the female shea pickers and their families through knowledge sharing and collectivism.
In Ghana there is a saying. When you educate a man, you educate one person, but when you educate a woman, you educate the whole community. The expression perfectly encapsulates one of Bunge Loders Croklaan’s pilot projects in our Where Life Grows program: The Women’s Cooperatives Project in the Nasia Region. This project focuses on providing cooperative business and quality training to women active in the shea picking industry in Northern Ghana, an area with a poverty rate of more than 50%. The project makes use of the trickle-down effect by identifying female community leaders who are subsequently tasked to pass on their knowledge to the women in their respective communities.
When the student becomes the teacher
While initiated by Bunge Loders Croklaan, the program relies heavily on the support and expertise of Agriterra. Agriterra trains approximately 500 women in small groups of 50 the basics of corporative development and business management, encouraging them to form women cooperatives by igniting their entrepreneurial mindset and to building trust through cooperation. The activities are carried out over 6 days of training of trainers and 5 days community level trainings led by the trained women for 2 communities. This was followed by 2 weeks of product quality training which focuses on sustainable agriculture and quality shea processing, among other things. The objective of the training is to transfer competencies and knowledge while improving the quality of the product.
“We help the women to be able to talk,” Habiba tells us. “In those communal environments, younger women are often not encouraged to express themselves due to the elderly deciding a lot for the younger generation. So, we provide them with the opportunity for them to share what they think; to share knowledge and work together. They are encouraged to think about activities and about their community. But also, about their own development. Apart from the business advantages, they also gain personal growth. And most important: with this experience they will be equipped to advance the knowledge to others”
The Women’s Cooperatives Project, created as part of a collaboration between the Global Shea Alliance with support of the German Alliance for International Collaboration (GIZ), Bunge Loders Croklaan and Agriterra, functions as a Public-Private Partnership (PPP). It provides Bunge Loders Croklaan with the opportunity to work seamlessly with government institutions and development platforms on a local level to support change in the shea sector. These types of PPP’s aim to be both commercially viable as well as sustainable and invokes a long-term commitment from all parties.
“The goal of this project is threefold. We aim to improve the livelihood of the female shea pickers and those of their families by offering them tools to improve the quality of their product and their production capacity,” shares Habiba. “Additionally, we provide them with the knowledge to optimize their business ventures and earnings through collectivism”. Within this scheme, Bunge Loders Croklaan provides a stable market for the women to sell their products on, and funding for the creation of warehouses and the registration of the shea cooperatives.
When it comes to future ambitions, Agriterra looks at the impact of the project on a short-and long-term. In the short term, Habiba wants to see groups of women who can collectively aggregate and sell their products to a wider market. In the next five years they should become fully registered and functioning shea cooperatives that are both bankable and guarantee great quality of the product. Taking an average family size of 5, the project has the potential to impact up to 5000 people within these communities. It has made Agriterra and Bunge Loders Croklaan also see the potential in expanding the projects to other areas.
To make sure the project continues to run smoothly, Agriterra monitors whether the knowledge is transferred correctly and adjusts the trainings to the women’s needs.
“We have gotten enthusiastic feedback from the groups,” Habiba shares. “The women are knowledgeable and have discovered they have the capacity to make an impact. Realizing this has made the families very receptive. Nothing is more empowering than financial sustainability.”
Agriterra and Bunge Loders Croklaan encourage the women to see the need and value of this project and how creating a cooperative can provide long-term and sustainable solutions enhancing the women’s livelihoods and production capacity.
The conversation leads us to Habiba sharing one of her fondest memories of the trainings she provided. She shares: “When we started the training, we asked the women about their reasons for participating in the training. No one initially knew how to answer that question. We would then ask them again at the end of the training and they would answer that they wanted to create their own company. It was inspiring. Cooperatives are mostly started by big corporations, but here, the women showed their own initiative in creating a cooperative. That makes me proud’.