October 2019, 6 months before the worldwide pandemic hit and we were forced into lockdown.
I was fortunate enough to travel to Bolgatanga in the North of Ghana, adjacent to the border with Burkina Faso and 161km to the North of Tamale (and its closest airport). It’s funny as in the 7 years that I lived in Ghana, I travelled to Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Cameroon, yet I didn’t step foot in the Northern part of Ghana. My Auntie, who was born and bred in Ghana has never visited there to this day, but I digress.
As I was planning to work with Shea butter for a large portion of my products, I thought it was only respectful to meet the producers and I was lucky enough to be introduced to a small cooperative of local women who worked together to process this wonderful product.
Shea butter production is the main livelihood for almost 1 million rural women in Ghana and many do this manually or with basic equipment. My “aunties”(in Ghana it is proper to refer to your elders as Auntie or Uncle) were kind enough to take me through the process.
The Shea nut is cracked with a stone or other hard material, then it is washed and dried. They are then ground together into pieces using a pestle and mortar (although there are grinding facilities that can speed up this process for a fee).
Once the nuts are crushed, they are roasted in a large coal pot, and then taken to the grinding machine where it is ground into a paste.
The women then put the paste into large basins and churn this by hand gradually adding water and churning until the butter oil separates from the water. The butter oil is then removed and put into a bowl of boiling water under a low fire and when then oil butter melts the women scoop off the oil that floats at the top.
The liquid is then strained to get rid of the unwanted impurities and the oil is stored in a cool dark place for half a day so that the oil becomes thick and ready to sell. Raw unrefined Shea butter is an ivory colour, sometimes you may find Shea butter in a brighter yellow colour, I was told that they add colour to the butter for this.
I am explaining this at the most simplistic level but I am sure you can understand how much work goes into production, I did not stay with them long enough for me to witness the whole process but was in awe just listening to them explain this to me.
I am hoping to see them soon once we get back to some type of “normal”, it was a pleasure meeting them and they produce a brilliant product.
Well that’s all I have for today. Until the next time.