Monday, September 25, 2017

The Amazing Shea Tree

[After spending this past week in California for meetings with ICM-USA, I am home for a few days before leaving on Friday for a month to Uganda, Kenya, and Ghana. Please pray for this trip which promises to be non-stop with trainings!]

While I lived in Ghana from 2009-2012, I heard a lot about shea butter nuts and the processing of shea butter.  Researchers say that shea butter has been used in West Africa since approximately 100 AD.

But it was on this last trip that I paid a bit more attention, as many of the people we met with were involved in the processing of shea butter nuts.  As we were waiting for a meeting to start at a Baptist Church in a village about an hour away from Tamale, something fell from the tree and hit Blossom on the head - a shea fruit from a shea tree.  I took a picture of the offending tree.  But my curiosity was piqued when Fanny told me that shea trees cannot be farmed.  They will only grow in the wild.  How can that be, I wondered?

In doing a little research, I discovered the following:
  • There are 9.4 million shea trees in Ghana, producing 100 tons of shea nuts, which is valued at about $1 million USD per year.
  • According to legend, no one owns a shea tree because they grow on their own
  • After three to five years, the tree becomes fire resistant because of deeply fissured bark.  
  • By thirty years old, the tree is full grown and can live to be 300 years old!
  • It does not have natural enemies, which is what allows it to grow to be so old.
  • The mature kernel contains 61% fat, which is edible as well as medicinal.  The oil from the shea tree is only second to palm oil in terms of importance in West Africa.
  • Shea butter can be used like lard or margarine as it makes a pliable dough.
  • Shea butter is high in vitamins A, E, and F, and can be an intense moisturizer for skin.
  • The residue from the shea nut, the leaves, and the tree itself can also be used for other things.  Every part is used!
While visiting the family that I wrote about last week, I was invited to take a bite of a shea fruit.  Since I'm always on the lookout for different types of fruit that God has created, I accepted the offer and took a bite.  It was surprisingly sweet with a texture of an avocado.  It is rich in vitamins, calcium, and iron.  The family we visited is also involved in shea nut production, as can be seen on the left of the picture with the goat.  

Many of the women we work with in the Northern Region of Ghana are involved in the processing of this incredible gift from God.  Hopeline Institute continues to look for ways to help the women work together, as well as to find markets for them.

Upon some further research, I finally discovered that the shea nut will not germinate if planted in a traditional manner - being fully buried in dirt.  It will only germinate if it is covered halfway with dirt, with the eye of the seed pointing up.  So, nuts that are thrown around haphazardly will germinate, while those carefully planted will not, giving the impression that these cannot be farmed and will only grow in the wild.

Shea butter
Unfortunately, shea trees are also beginning to be cut down for charcoal, as many people cook with charcoal in Ghana.  This will have a great negative impact on the industry if it is not curtailed.  In Discipling Marketplace Leaders, we teach that each Christian should have a quadruple bottom line (loving neighbors, discipling, economically being fruitful and multiplying, and stewarding the earth) and encourage each person to look at the impact that their business has on the earth.  For those who are selling charcoal, not only do we encourage them to plant trees but they also should know what type of wood they are buying and strive to protect this vital crop in the Ghanaian economy.