The Where Life Grows program was set up to empower shea collecting women, conserve and regenerate the shea landscape in their communities and create socio-economic value in their region.
Recently, Bunge Loders Croklaan partnered with Fludor, a shea nut crushing company, to build five warehouses for women cooperatives in the north of Benin, a key sourcing area. For this blog we spoke to Coffi Ananieklou, Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Manager at Fludor, about how these warehouses empower women and give them a more stable future for generations to come.
"I work directly with women cooperatives to buy the shea nuts they gather," says Coffi. "As well as equipment like rollers and stoves, Fludor also provides trainings in subjects like cooperative management and Good Agricultural practices to ensure high-quality shea nuts." Fludor knows the women in the cooperatives and their capacity which supports traceability, and recognizes that local circumstances are not always ideal. Shea nuts have to be stored in the right place and this can be a challenge for the women. "Their homes are small and during harvest season they bring home lots of nuts. They often resort to storing shea nuts under their beds or in other unsuitable places," explains Coffi. "This can affect the quality of the shea nuts."
Combining volumes for a better price
Together with Bunge Loders Croklaan, Fludor decided to build warehouses to support the cooperatives in this challenge. "We share responsibility with the local community," says Coffi. "They supply the land in conjunction with the community elders and we take care of construction." Each warehouse can store about 240 bags of shea nuts totaling 20 metric tons. There is also roofed drying area with a concrete floor that allows the women to dry the nuts properly and prevent deterioration.
The warehouses not only enable the cooperatives to store shea nuts under optimal conditions, they also allow the women to combine their harvests, giving them more bargaining power when selling. "In a good year, each woman can collect up to 12 bags of shea nuts depending on conditions", continues Coffi, "By aggregating their crops, the women can get a better market price."
Shifting focus to quality; increasing incomes
In addition to getting a good price for their shea nuts, the women also receive a bonus if they meet quality standards. "Bunge Loders Croklaan and Fludor have high standards related to acidity, moisture and purity of the nuts," says Coffi. "Previously, the women were focused primarily on volume and the price they receive for the nuts. We can however pay a higher price if the quality standards are met. By providing the quality trainings and by paying a bonus when these standards are met, we change their focus to quality. By providing warehouses we solve the challenge on where to dry and store their nuts. Productivity, volume and quality increases, and as a result also their income to support their families rise."
Warehouse benefits are all-year-round
The shea nut season in Benin lasts three to four months from June to September. What happens to the warehouses during the rest of the year? "During the off-season, the warehouses are used to store other crops like cashew nuts and soya beans grown by the women's husbands," says Coffi. "Fludor and Bunge Loders Croklaan help the cooperatives use the warehouses in the right way and that includes adapting our training to include other types of crops." Because they can use the warehouses all year round, the cooperatives stay together which reinforces solidarity amongst the women."
Inspiring neighboring villages
So far, Fludor and Bunge Loders Croklaan have built five warehouses in five separate villages and aim to build more in the coming years. "One warehouse can have a positive impact on the lives of hundreds of women," says Coffi. "The local men are also happy with the development. The mayor of one community attended the opening ceremony of one of the warehouses." Word of mouth about the project's success has also inspired women in surrounding villages, according to Coffi. "They see the results and come to us wanting to form their own cooperatives."