Market integration and changes in traditional practices in West Africa: the case of Shea
ID: 613 / 286
Proposed Symposium Title: Market integration and changes in traditional practices in West Africa: the case of Shea
Affiliations: Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Commercial and development actors influence traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) practices among rural populations in the global south through complex mechanisms. This paper explores this rural transformation dynamic through the case of shea (Vitellaria paradoxa). For centuries, women have collected and processed shea nuts into dried kernels, and subsequently butter. Over the last decades, the international demand for kernels has increased as opposed to butter. The results of 1100 household surveys conducted in Ghana and Burkina Faso about women’s current and past processing methods and end-use of shea products, reveal that 1) processing methods are being homogenized, and 2) women abandon the butter making process in favor of selling shea kernels. This trend is more visible in Ghana, where especially younger women follow processing methods promoted by big companies and development institutions, in contrast to Burkina Faso, where there remains higher processing diversity, and butter production. Loss of diversity in processing methods may reduce the ability to adapt to external changes, such as market demands and climate change. The decrease in butter production is leading to matrilineal knowledge loss and has implications for the household economy, as women substitute shea butter for industrial, more expensive cooking oils and skincare creams. The study offers a critical analysis of how the dynamic and multidirectional nature of rural transformations and TEK influence resource users and the entire value chain.