The Ghanaian Women’s Co-operative - which produces Fair Trade shea butter for Lush Cosmetics - has embarked on a pioneering re-greening project of the land where the shea trees grow. Steph Newton paid a visit and discovered empowerment can come in many forms - from beekeeping to firefighting and stove-building
In 2015 the Ghanaian women’s co-operative that produces Fair Trade shea butter for Lush Cosmetics ventured into their first re-greening project. Introduced by the founders of the co-operative, Johan and Tracy Wulfers, as a ‘shea nursery’ using permaculture practices, the site has now evolved into a successful demonstration site (albeit in its early stages) for African farming techniques whereby a variety of crops are grown, along with the shea trees.
The two-acre plot that was gifted to the women's group by local chiefs, was planned as a shea nursery to help provide farming education and future security - both economically and environmentally - for local people. Shea trees can fruit for 200 years but without knowing the age of these wild tree’s, Johan and Tracy saw the importance of preparing now for the future by planting new ones.
The site is a short drive but a fair walk from the main co-operative centre and so the women take it in turns to tend to the site in small groups. Entirely managed by the women, the project has proven cost effective and well run; taking it in turns to come and tend to the land and demonstrate local techniques, they soon realised an indigenous approach would work better than a permaculture one.
A small protective fence runs the perimeter of the site to keep the young seedlings safe from inquisitive wildlife but the sLush-funded bore hole has been drilled on the outside of that fence so that all can come and collect water from it. People, bees and goats alike - and this has proven very popular with the locals.
In 2017, beehives were introduced to the nursery with the dual hope of assisting pollination and producing honey to be sold locally. Enlisting the help of a skilled local beekeeper, there are now 6 hives, 4 of which are colonised. Honey from Northern Ghana has earnt itself speciality status and there is much hope and excitement for the success of this latest and innovative venture.
More recently, Frances Chimsah, a local Tamale college lecturer came on board as a consultant to help with specialist advice on growing technique and practices. With a focus on valuing native trees to work with nature and enrich the soil, there is now a combination of crops being grown on an experimental basis including cashew, baobab and shea.
The co-operative plans soon to introduce the bamboo species Oxtenanthera abyssinica to the site, hoping this fast-growing crop will take pressure off the hardwood trees that are cut for firewood and are slower to grow. Johan and Tracy have high hopes that this could be a pioneering plant for the people in Northern Ghana and that it will actively help reduce the need for deforestation for firewood for cooking and other uses.
A real risk to the land in this area is bush fire and the women are keen to protect their nursery site from that hazard. By simply brushing away the dried loose grass around the perimeter of the outside fencing, they have considerably reduced that risk. In fact, they have gone one step further and trained more than 250 of the co-operative’s women to be firefighters (We were told when we visited that thanks to this training, they have seen a significant reduction in the spreading of bush fire.)
Now in the next phase of this pioneering Re-greening project, a Climate Smart Farming Technique booklet has been developed and circulated to further encourage climate-adaptive farming techniques and this fully illustrated manual is proving a fantastic tool to aid with training - a ‘go-to’ that the women can refer to outside of their formal training sessions with Frances Chimsah.
Meetings have been taking place to discuss the next steps of the project and since the majority of the beehives are now colonised, it has been agreed the co-operative will bring in more beehive construction and further beekeeping training for those that did not benefit from it in the first and second phase.
Johan and Tracy hope to have all of the co-operative’s 25 workgroups eventually monitoring the beehives and involved in a microenterprise whereby they are selling honey in the local market.
Developing micro enterprises for the women is an important element of the co-operative and re-greening project. One successful example of this was the introduction of rocket stoves as an alternative to cooking on open fires. A rocket stove is a hyper efficient, hot burning stove that has the ability to burn the smallest of branches and twigs that are otherwise considered too small for firewood, and switching to these stove helps to further reduce the need to cut down trees. A number of the women working at the co-operative are now skilled rocket stove builders so the idea is to roll this out further so that all 517 co-operative members can benefit from a rocket stove in their own home.
With this and so much more underway in the project, there is a real sense of achievement for what has been developed so far and so much excitement and anticipation for what the future may bring.