Shea nuts are used to make substitutes for cocoa butter in the chocolate and confectionery industry and are a principal raw material of cocoa butter equivalents (CBE).
Ghana’s Vice President John Mahama said that the government wants the shea industry to become a priority sector, according to the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, and a premium would be placed on developing it into a cash crop, as was done for the cocoa industry in the past.
Mahama was speaking at a conference in Burkina Faso this week, called “Shea 2009: Optimizing the Global Value Chain”, which was organised by the West Africa Trade Hub.
The ‘shea belt’ runs through much of West Africa, particularly Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Mali and between 2004 and 2008 the shea industry doubled.
Ghana’s aim is to set up a Shea nut Development Board to help the country tap into the rapidly expanding global shea trade, which is expected to be worth $500m per annum within the next five years.
Mahama said: “The understanding of government with these commitments is to make the shea nut industry the major driving force in the accelerated development of the savannah areas of Ghana”.
The Vice President said the move reflected the government’s “recognition of the crucial role that the shea crop plays in the socio-economic development of the savannah area of the country”.
The aim is to increase production by overcoming challenges such as issues with poor processing and problems associated with domesticating this wild crop.
The hub said that traditional shea butter processing is done by village women, who gather, boil and sun-dry the nuts. Afterward, they pound and ground the dried nuts to a paste, which they knead with water to extract the fat, and stir into creamy butter.
As well as CBEs, the solid fat (butter or stearin) and the liquid oil (olien), are also used in cooking oil, margarine, cosmetics, soap, detergents and candles, according to Sekaf Ghana which is an African producer and exporter of the ingredient.
Scandinavian ingredients group AarhusKarlshamn (AAK) claims to be one of the world’s leading producers of high value-added, speciality vegetable fats and it recently invested in strengthening its shea butter supply chain in West Africa to help secure supply of the core CBE raw material.
In the past AAK has said that shortages in shea nuts harmed volumes of cocoa alternatives at times when market demand was high.
It states that cocoa butter has a unique composition and physical properties. CBEs have similar physical and chemical properties as cocoa butter but “iron out many of the difficulties inherent in chocolate production”.
It said that based on shea and/or illipe butter and palm oil, CBEs are less expensive than cocoa butter but jus as natural.