For our fourth blog about key people who make a remarkable contribution within the shea supply chain, we spoke with Aaron Adu, Managing Director of the Global Shea Alliance (GSA), and Jean-Arnaud Janvier, Supply Chain Manager West-Africa at Bunge Loders Croklaan. GSA focuses on promoting sustainability and quality practices and standards within the global shea industry and currently has 560 members from 35 countries. The GSA has active projects in Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Togo and Nigeria.
A cause for reflection
“It seems like only yesterday that we started the Global Shea Alliance. But when we look at the changes and development made since then, we realize that all this could not have been achieved overnight and without the support of all of our partners.” Aaron shares while searching for words to describe the positive impact organizations like the one he is leading have made in the region he grew up in. As managing director of the Global Shea Alliance, Aaron will be celebrating the organization’s 10-year anniversary this year, a great achievement giving cause for some reflection. Joining our conversation, is Jean-Arnaud, Supply Chain Manager at Bunge Loders Croklaan in West Africa for almost four years and currently vice-president of the GSA. We reached out to both to learn more about Bunge Loders Croklaan’s collaboration with the association and the impact they have made on a local level.
“Over the last decade, I have witnessed a lot of development, not only in my personal life but also in different parts of the West African region,” Aaron continues. “The local infrastructure, for instance, has improved greatly. Road networks are expanding and there is an increase in electricity coverage, reaching remote places as well. We now have more access to good education and healthcare, and there are more opportunities to work or own a business. Women are increasingly becoming part of collector groups called cooperatives. More children, and in particular girls, can go to school. In general, the economic outlook has improved greatly with the help of industries like the shea industry creating social and economic value on a local level. Collaborations such as the one between the GSA and Bunge Loders Croklaan serve as vehicles to accelerate prosperity.”
Collaboration is key
Bunge Loders Croklaan has been supporting GSA financially as well as in kind since the organization’s inception. “We are one of the founding members,” says Jean-Arnaud. “Before the creation of the Alliance, the shea industry was relatively unknown. Companies like Bunge Loders Croklaan were operating independently in the region and there was little knowledge about their roles and impact. Consumers did not know where the shea was coming from. There was thus a need to create more awareness and transparency within the product’s supply chain.”
In the early days, the organization focused mainly on connecting stakeholders. Jean-Arnaud elaborates: “10 years ago, there was no platform for competitors, peers, women groups or NGOs active in the industry to come together to talk, express their concerns and exchange ideas. The GSA is the only platform recognized by all stakeholders and functions as a place where industry issues can be properly addressed. And its main driver is to make the industry more sustainable.”
However, pursuing the effort has not been without its challenges. “Shea has a scattered supply chain. It is a crop that grows naturally on parklands and that is not easily managed. The tree’s nuts are harvested mainly by women who were initially isolated from the global market,” Aaron explains. The GSA, together with Bunge Loders Croklaan and other major players in the industry, have made an effort to shorten supply chains and work as directly with the women involved as possible. “Only then can we increase transparency through traceability, and simultaneously work on fair pricing and enhancing the quality of the product.”
To achieve this goal, Bunge Loders Croklaan has been supporting the GSA with multiple projects over the last years, as well as being active members of the executive board and of the Sustainability Working Group and Shea Parkland Restoration Fund committee. In 2016, Bunge Loders Croklaan was one of the drivers of a project in Ghana, supporting the construction of a warehouse for local women. The warehouse, primarily used to store kernels, brought with it a number of advantages. It helped the women sell larger quantities of shea nuts and earn more per kilo. The dry storage conditions of the warehouse also enhanced the quality of the nuts. Furthermore, the warehouse made way for additional income as it could be sublet as a space to store other crops during off-season.
Opening up new markets
Next to this our combined efforts are also directed at opening up new markets for shea. Our application at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) resulted in an approval which effectively allows the use of shea butter fractions and their mixtures in the manufacturing and distribution of a variety of U.S. products including baked goods and breakfast cereals.
Action for shea parklands
Jean-Arnaud also mentions Bunge Loders Croklaan’s commitment to the Association’s Action for Shea Parkland Initiative: “The initiative seeks to restore and protect the shea parklands from degradation. The GSA aims to plant an average of one million trees a year for the coming 5 years. Bunge Loders Croklaan has already contributed to making this dream a reality by planting 6,000 trees in 2020 and have committed to planting another 36,000 in the coming years.”
“We have just finalized our 5-year strategy,” Aaron shares enthusiastically. “We will be focusing on three pillars: increasing the demand of shea, improving the quality, and making the overall industry more sustainable. We aim to support another 250 thousand women and increase their income by 50%, plant 5 million trees and protect 2 million hectares of parkland by 2025. At the same time, we’d like to see how the organization could become financially independent.”
Ambitious and inspiring goals, which Bunge Loders Croklaan is proud to be a part of. As we’ll celebrate the Global Shea Alliance’ 10-year anniversary throughout the year, we will be sharing more about it’s efforts in the coming months. Check back at the news section of our website for new projects that are about to be launched.