Shea quality

Software and cell phone updates support women shea producers in Ghana

Heino Kantimm
Maxwell Kuunyem

A Ghanaian network uses cell phones and specialised software to provide training, microfinance and business support to women producers of shea products.

The Star Shea Network brings together rural women’s groups that specialise in harvesting and processing nuts from the shea tree. The network helps more than 3,000 members, spread throughout northeastern Ghana, to produce high quality shea products and obtain premium prices from international markets. The network provides training in improved production techniques, business management and offers associated groups microfinance opportunities.

Families traditionally collect the shea nuts in the spring months when income from cultivated crops is low. The lack of available funds often means they have to sell the nuts for low prices early in the season before they are fully dried for processing. Studies have also shown that the women producers and final buyers were losing money to a long list of intermediaries and wholesalers who added little to the value of the product, but increased costs considerably.

With support from the international aid organisation, PlaNet Finance, and software developer, SAP, the Star Shea Network (SSN) set out to make the supply chain more efficient and improve its members’ income. By aggregating the shea products from the many groups, the network would be able to benefit from economies of scale, and sell in bulk to local and international buyers.

SAP developed Rural Market Connection, an internet-based order management software that collects and processes orders from buyers and manages the division of large orders down to group level. The system transmits the order details to computers at the offices of local microfinance agencies working with SSN.

The cooperatives that have sufficient available product coordinate with their members to meet the order requirements, organise collection and other logistical arrangements, with details sent back through the system. As the details are recorded by the software, including details of the suppliers and the product’s progress through the supply chain, the process is now traceable and transparent, a requirement for many export markets. Members also receive updated market prices on their cell phones from Esoko market information service, which helps the women to make informed decisions and obtain the best prices when selling their products.

Additionally, SAP helped Star Shea Network to set up a website to raise the profile of the organisation. Buyers and consumers can now read about the project, its achievements, view products and make direct contact to place orders.

Financial success

PlaNet Finance worked with two partner microcredit organisations in the region, Grameen Ghana and Maata-N-Tudu, to provide financial support to SSN members. Microfinance loans now mean that the women can buy protective gloves and boots to use when collecting the nuts, and invest in processing equipment, such as grinding mills and packaging, to help boost their business.

The two financial organisations are supported by another software package developed by SAP, called Microloan Management. The programme helps the organisations’ rural loan officers working in the field to track who has loans, and provides up-to-date information on repayments and available funding resources.

PlaNet Finance has also worked with major buyers of shea products to determine their needs, which were taken into consideration when developing a training course to help SSN members provide better quality products. A small number of women were trained initially, but to reach as many members as possible PlaNet Finance produced a video to give information on improved and standardised processing techniques. The aid organisation also held business training courses for SSN members providing information on how to manage their income, organise budgets and coordinate group activities.

A recent study by Stanford University showed that some SSN members had increased their income by up to 82%, and PlaNet Finance has recently secured funding to extend the project to reach another 1,500 women. Improvements to efficiency and increased production have made SSN a competitive operator in the Ghanaian shea market.

As the network continues to expand and produce high quality shea products it is likely to attract more buyers, especially in niche shea butter markets. Depending on market demand, SSN seeks certification to show that its products meet organically-produced standards. The Stanford study notes that, with the progress made so far, SSN can ‘make a difference in shea women’s lives’ and could go on to become a financially independent business if it continues to improve and meet the market challenges.

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Heino Kantimm is responsible for social sustainability at SAP.

Maxwell Kuunyem is a project manager at PlaNet Finance, based in Tamale, Ghana.

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Stare Shea Network
www.starshea.com

View an SAP video of the Star Shea Network
www.sap-tv.com

The Shea Value Chain Reinforcement Initiative, by SAP, PlaNet Finance, Grameen Ghana and Maata-N-Tudu [PDF]
www.gsb.stanford.edu

26 August 2011

Copyright © 2014, CTA. Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (ACP-EU)