For over 50 years, Bunge Loders Croklaan has played a leading role in the sourcing, crushing and processing of shea. One of the main pillars on which our Where Life Grows program was set up is the creation of socio-economic value at the origin. We are committed to strengthening the shea infrastructure and supply chain, supporting local crushers and shea collectors with improved working conditions and economic opportunities. For some time now, we have been partnering with Mali Shi, the only large-scale industrial shea crushing factory in Mali, Africa. Recently, we spoke to the CEO, Simballa Sylla, who is also the President of the Global Shea Alliance. He told us all about the leaps of progress the region has been making over the years due to employment generation and the empowerment of women cooperatives.
Why set up a crushing facility in Mali?
As a raw material, shea is widely available in Mali. However, prior to 2017, Mali did not have a shea-butter factory, so the shea nuts were shipped to Europe for crushing and refining. As a result of this, jobs and economic growth disappeared into Europe, along with the shea nuts.
Together with Bunge Loders Croklaan, we researched the potential of building a shea crushing factory in the region, which was eventually commissioned in 2020. The shea nuts that are picked in Mali are crushed into rich shea butter at the Mali Shi crushing facility. The next step in the supply chain is the refining of this shea butter, which is now done by our partner, Bunge Loders Croklaan, in their plant in Tema, Ghana. This construction keeps all economic activity from this part of the supply chain in West-Africa: it ensures a localized supply chain that empowers local African entrepreneurs to generate employment. And the numbers speak for themselves. Starting with 0 employees in 2020, we currently have over 100 direct employees in our crushing facility – and this number is set to grow further!
Part of the crew working at the Mali Shi Crushing facility on the left, Simballa Sylla on the right
What is the nature of your partnership with Bunge Loders Croklaan?
Bunge Loders Croklaan has never been a typical client for us. We have been working together even before we built our crushing factory. We have taken their advice in each step of the way. Besides partnering to gain market entry, Bunge Loders Croklaan provides us with technical support that can further enhance the functioning of our factory. For example, they provide trainings for food safety for Mali Shi employees and knowledge transfer on building efficient logistics. Endeavours such as these help improve the quality of our shea butter to meet global market standards.
Can you explain how Mali Shi sources its raw materials?
We receive shea nuts for crushing from two sources – directly from women cooperatives, and from traders. The link with the women cooperatives is not simply commercial, it also helps us invest in a sustainable partnership. At Mali Shi, our aim is to foster long-term partnerships that help both the women cooperatives as well as our factory thrive. It is very important to us that we treat the women as our business partners. We negotiate on pricing, quality, quantity. But most importantly, we put everything in a contract and sign it. This close relationship that translates into business partnership is based on mutual trust. We entrust the women cooperatives with advance payment and are in turn rewarded with high-quality shea nuts that the women pick during the season. Next to this, it gives the women cooperatives the opportunity to start with sustainability projects such as fair payments and bonusses or promoting solar energy in the communities.
Keeping the whole process – from sourcing to crushing to refining shea – within the countries of origin, directly and indirectly impacts West-African inhabitants: the lives of the women shea cooperatives and employees. We currently work with more than 26,000 women. With an average of 6 members per family, this implies a direct influence on more than 156,000 individuals!
What is your take-out for the future?
We believe the key to building a better tomorrow for shea communities is by being deeply invested in their growth and prosperity. Bunge Loders Croklaan also shares this view. They consciously choose to have the crushing and processing of the shea nuts done in Africa and not in Europe. This really places them at the forefront of progress for the local region.
To further concretize on our plans for the future, we are currently working on more projects for the coming year and our focus will be on:
- Women empowerment by way of business training and cooperative development activities, impacting approximately 8,000 women in 5 different communities
- Environmental development through nurseries and planting of shea plants
- Socio-economic development through warehousing, (digital) traceability system and quality training
Before we say our goodbyes for this interview, Simballa adds, “What I appreciate about Bunge Loders Croklaan is that they are not looking to gain producing share but helping set up local factories like Mali Shi, and then pushing the standards of quality. Ours may be a young business compared to others, but it is a promising one. It is easier for us to integrate sustainability, and with the help of partners like Bunge Loders Croklaan we certainly foresee a bright future ahead!”