In our first blog about key people who make a remarkable contribution within the shea supply chain, we talk to the effervescent and inspiring Dora Haborsutei Torwiseh, Founder of Nuts for Growth and NGO Women for Change. She tells us all about the women of shea and the impactful work her organization does to empower them.
Nuts for Growth, a labor of love
“You look fresh!” Dora cheerfully tells new mom Laura de Gruijter, Sustainability Manager Europe at Bunge Loders Croklaan via Zoom, after seeing Laura for the first time since she returned from maternity leave. Dora runs Nuts for Growth (N4G), a company established with the intention to create steady income opportunities for rural women who are struggling to support their families in the Northern Region of Ghana.
The organization supports the shea women in various ways, providing them with a reliable market to sell the shea nuts they gather during wet-season (June - October), and offering financial support for the women to rent plots of lands on which they can grow different types of products, buy seeds and rent tractors during dry-season (November – April).
Dora describes N4G as a “procurement strategy”, a pillar within the shea value chain that supplies nuts to companies like BLC. Given the complexity and vulnerabilities of a seasonal crop, N4G wanted to create a resilient ecosystem for these underprivileged women who depend solely on farming activities and shea picking for their livelihoods.
A game-changing community system
The idea to facilitate a steady income year-round for the women was born out of the need to create a seamless and more dependable supply chain for the shea industry.
“We have set up a community system for the women that would generate multiple sources of income so they wouldn’t have to depend on the seasonal income of harvesting shea nuts. The way it works is that BLC sources the shea nuts from N4G. BLC pre-finances the organisation, meaning it pays upfront for delivery of the shea nuts in the shea season. With this pre-financing, N4G supports the women in off-season farming, so that they have an all year round income of the shea industry. With the support from N4G, the women buy seedlings so they can plant vegetables, spices and other crops which can be harvested and sold when there’s no shea season. The women pay N4G back in shea nuts and N4G supplies the nuts to BLC.” Dora explains.”
From 800 to 77,000 women in 10 years
“I’ve been associated with BLC a long time now” Dora reflects. She credits BLC with their ability to scale impact. “BLC’s role in this work is the reason why we can support 77,000 women and their families in the network, a huge increase from the 800 we were able to support before.” “The sizes of the families ranges from 5 to 30 household members, who all depend on the woman’s livelihood through shea. BLC not only funds some of these initiatives, they give these women the security of a stable value chain. BLC also supports them with the picking, supplying them with rollers that increase the picking speed and have given us energy efficient stoves.” The energy efficient stoves decrease the need for firewood by 40%, thereby reducing the need to cut trees for cooking purposes. Next to general household needs, the ovens are used to cook the shea nuts.
Education and community for mother and child
Together with BLC and N4G, Dora’s NGO Women4Change, also supports the women and their children with several educational projects. One such program, WASH*, teaches women how to keep their crops healthy and maintain good personal hygiene. “We also train these women about their rights and coach them in the farming and livestock activities. When new crops are introduced in the system, we hire agronomists to train and educate them about the health benefits, how to keep them from harm and pesticides. We are committed to making sure they do not lose their crops and livestock as this would easily dishearten them.” Dora adds.
When asked what happens if there is a bad shea harvest or a woman is not able to pick the nuts, Dora explains the working groups system called VSLA**, a micro-credit system of sorts. 10 - 25 women per group with a leader assigned have a savings system that allows them to set money aside, to use for example, when the women are pregnant. The women also buy the seedlings from their savings. They calculate how much they need for the seeds and the rest they keep for themselves to pay for their children’s school fees, books, uniforms, footwear for example.
Looking back and forward for Dora and Nuts for Growth
When Laura asks Dora what her biggest learnings have been, Dora smiles and takes a deep breath: “I have learned a lot!” “My biggest learning is to try and understand women and their needs. The extent and depth of the poverty among rural women is overwhelming. I learned to help expand their minds about what’s possible. I learned how to manage their resources and utilize it so their children and entire families can benefit from it. I also learned to be able to manage the partnership needs of a big company like BLC. In so many ways it has been a life changing and fulfilling experience. Above all, it is very gratifying to see that children can now eat breakfast before going to school and come home knowing their mothers have food for them.”
“My ambition is to help many more women in the shea value chain to improve their livelihoods. If we teach these women coordination, organization and business skills to utilize the value of the shea tree and to protect these plants that have been part of the landscape for centuries, they can get the most out of it. It is a chain of success.”
Well, hats off to what you have achieved, Dora! We are very excited to be joining you on your journey towards growing the lives of all the women of shea.
* WASH is the collective term for Water Sanitation and Hygiene: https://www.unicef.org/wash/3942_3952.html
** VSLA is a Village Savings and Loan Association. A group of people who meet regularly to save together and take small loans from those savings. The activities of the group run in cycles of one year, after which the accumulated savings and the loan profits are distributed back to the members.