A research conducted by Strategic Development Alliance Ghana for Shea Network Ghana (SNG) in nineteen (19) districts in the three regions of the north –Upper West, Upper East and Northern Regions, has revealed that there is no specific bye-law for the protection of shea trees.
The research revealed that, only three (3) districts –Savelugu-Nanton Municipality, Wa East and Sissala East District Assemblies had written and documented general bye-laws aimed at protecting the environment and all other trees.
Mr. Chimsah Francis of Strategic Development Alliance Ghana who presented the research findings at a stakeholder meeting organised by SNG in Tamale, said the findings revealed, also that, none of the 19 districts had their bye-laws gazetted. However, only the Savelugu-Nanton Municipal Assembly, he noted, had passed bye-laws and was awaiting support to gazette them.
The National Coordinator of SNG Iddi Zakaria told Savannahnews, the network was very much concerned about the level of destruction of shea trees, hence the decision to research on the existence of bye-laws and ways to protect shea trees as well as other economic trees.
Mr. Zakaria admitted that, the continuous destruction of shea trees had serious ramifications on the lives and livelihoods of most rural dwellers, particularly women shea nut pickers and butter processors who depended on it as source of food and income.
According to him, there was increasing felling of shea trees to pave way for the creation of other tree plantation, for wood works, fuel wood and charcoal production, stressing that, the economic value of shea fruits was enormous and should be protected by all well-meaning citizens in the Northern Savannah Ecological Zone.
He hinted that, SNG would soon organise a stakeholder forum involving all actors in the shea nuts industry, ministries, departments and agencies working in the environment sector as well as metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies to share findings of the research with them for appropriate validation.
The objective of that forum, Mr. Zakaria stated, would be to seek the views of stakeholders on how to enact the appropriate bye-laws for shea trees conservation and protection from total extinction in the Northern Savannah Ecological Zone.
The research, nonetheless, pointed out that about 80.8% of District Assemblies were willing to fund processes involved in gazetting their bye-laws. Whereas 11.5 did not agree on the Assemblies themselves funding the gazetting of their bye-laws, 7.3% of respondents were uncertain.
In some communities also, it was a taboo according to the research, for people to cut down shea trees. Those who defied this order were fined by their chiefs to pay an amount of GHȼ200.00; hence the practice had encouraged many community members to protect shea trees.
Many respondents including chiefs, District Assembly officials, shea nut pickers and butter processors among others, maintained that the biggest challenge towards the conservation of shea trees were charcoal producers, lack of bye-laws and bush burning.
The economic importance of the shea tree cannot be over emphasized. A mature shea kernel contains about 61% fat which when extracted is edible, and can serve medicinal as well as industrial purposes.
It is estimated that about 9.4 million shea trees are in Ghana, and these can potentially yield one hundred tonnes of shea nuts worth about 100 million United State dollars per year. Shea butter has been found to have a fat composition similar to cocoa butter, and is used as a substitute for lard or margarine because it makes a highly, pliable dough.
Shea butter is also used in making soap and candles, and it is incorporated in margarine formulations. After the oil is extracted, the residue serves as excellent fuel, and can also be mixed with mud for plastering traditional mud huts. The shea butter is known to be naturally rich in Vitamins A, E, and F, as well as a number of other vitamins and minerals.
Meanwhile, SNG is a civil society organization made up of shea actors along the value chain, and envisions a shea industry in which there are increased equitable benefits for all actors along the entire value chain. SNG is a 66 member organization; 219 shea cooperatives and 7000 women shea butter processors in all three regions of the north.
Formed in 2010 through multi-stakeholder actions of producers, non-governmental organizations and government agencies, SNG among other things seeks to build and share information and experiences on the shea industry; provide an equitable space for engagements/discussions among shea sector stakeholders in a coordinated way; contribute to shaping and sustaining a supportive policy and business environment; and provide an institutionalized platform to support the development of the shea industry.
SNG seeks to be a civil society organisation, a voice for the sector, to be able to represent the private sector in dialoguing with government so that the pertinent issues in the shea industry are addressed. For instance, issues of low pricing, inability to conserve shea parklands due to non-existent of specific bye-laws, among other things are what SNG discusses at its fora.