For our fifth blog about key people who make a remarkable contribution within the shea supply chain, we looked into one of Bunge Loders Croklaan’s pilot projects: a collaboration with FRES, an energy provider for rural areas, and Agriterra, an organization specialized in cooperative development. Through cooperation, the parties have set out to supply sustainable and renewable energy to shea cooperatives in remote areas.
Not all rural shea areas have access to electricity and running water. At Bunge Loders Croklaan, we have actively been looking for solutions to enhance working conditions within our shea supply chain and create socio-economic value at a local level, by providing these women with access to electricity and shea processing aids.
Introducing our partners
In the Cascade region of southern Burkina Faso, Bunge Loders Croklaan’s supplier Sowdjoma* (a union of women cooperatives ) works with FRES, an organization that advances electrification in the rural areas of Africa by establishing commercial electricity companies under local management. The aim is to bring electricity to the isolated rural areas where shea trees grow. The project is supported by Agriterra. Agriterra, founded by the Dutch agricultural and cooperative sector, provides expert advice and training to such cooperatives and farmer organizations in emerging economies.
Empowering women collectives
The pilot project, currently in its design phase, is ambitious. The strategic plan for the upcoming five years is to build five sites in which the women can process shea nuts, powered by two solar-powered mini grids. With this, the organizations hope to save time and simultaneously increase processing capacity, attracting more women to join the initiative.
The installation of the mini power grids provides the women the opportunity to process the nuts closer to home, which they estimate could also increase production capacity by 50%. As a result, the women can spend more time with their families. It also opens up multiple sources of income for the women as they can diversify and farm different crops on their land when it is off-season for shea.
Diversification of farming is also made possible by the installation of solar-powered water pumps for irrigation purposes. The women cooperatives of Sowdjoma plan to expand their activities beyond the shea season to process sesame and maize, using the energy made available by the newly constructed power grid. Taking into account these additional forms of farming, the construction of a solar-powered production site has the potential to double the total production of the cooperative.
Access to electricity at reasonable costs
In line with the guidelines stipulated by the World Bank, the costs for making use of the solar-powered mini grid constructed by FRES and local subsidiary Yeelen Ba should not exceed more than 10% of the average income of the cooperatives’ members. The goal is for the project to eventually be entirely self-supporting.
Protecting the shea landscape
A welcome effect of introducing sustainable and renewable energy sources for the pre-production of shea butter is that it also provides a safe alternative to the use of wood, fire and gasoline for fuel. The project therefore complements and supports Bunge Loders Croklaan’s commitment to conserve and protect the savannah parklands as part of the Where Life Grows campaign. Transitioning to renewable energy also reduces the cooperatives’ carbon footprint, which is in line with Agriterra’s support to its clients to transform into climate smart cooperatives.
Co-creating a multifunctional platform
So, what’s next? To set up a mini grid, the involved parties need to green-light the construction of a hub of multifunctional sites with a radius of 120 km and provide electricity to one of Sowdjoma’s 5 cooperatives. The site will be designed specifically, based on the cooperatives’ demand. It requires all parties involved to co-create the design that fits the cooperatives’ business model. Agriterra and FRES scope, design and build the site within a 24-month time frame. The project is currently in the design phase and anticipated to move on to procurement in September. The goal is to make the site fully operational by end 2022.
Through the pilot project, the collaborators seek to demonstrate that by powering off-grid production activities, these types of rural cooperatives could act as a catalyst for the establishment of entrepreneurial sites and for enhancing local economic development and job creation. For Bunge Loders Croklaan, this project embodies the three main pillars of the organization’s responsible practices within its supply chain: 1) it enhances socio-economic development, 2) it helps protect and restore shea parklands, and 3) it contributes to empowering the women of shea. After a positive evaluation, Bunge Loders Croklaan envisions to replicate the project within its shea supply chain in other regions across rural Africa.
A prospect that bears immense promise.
*Sowdjoma was formerly known as UGPPK.