Reducing Poverty among Women by Strengthening the Shea Value Chain in Northern Ghana

Shea processing in Ghana - photo courtesy USAID in Africa

The shea value chain in Ghana is dominated by women, from picking shea nuts to processing them into commodities for a growing global market. Shea presents a powerful opportunity to address poverty and food insecurity but a lack of training and financing keep women from achieving the full profits from their efforts. This ALL-IN project is testing a package of training and financing that will vertically integrate local shea markets in northern Ghana, increasing the sector’s overall profitability while empowering women producers to receive the full benefits of their work.

Project Overview

Lead Principal Investigator: Fred Dzanku, Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER) at the University of Ghana

Project Partners: Presbyterian Agricultural Services (PAS), META Foundation, Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV), Northwestern University, USAID Ghana

Development Innovation: Training and pre-financing arrangements

Commodity: Shea

Targeted Population: Women shea producers and processors 

Country/Location: Northern Ghana

Timeline: 2021-2024

Funding: $450,000 (USAID)

The Challenge

Northern Ghana is generally poorer than the southern part of the country in multiple dimensions, but particularly with respect to income, assets and infrastructure. Solutions to these challenges should be mindful of opportunities to also bridge gender gaps with a focus on women’s economic and social outcomes. 

The shea tree is an important cash crop in the northern regions of Ghana where poverty is highest and increasing.[1] Shea butter is an important local commodity. Families can use shea butter as cooking oil and can process it into local cosmetic products such as pomades and soaps. The shea value chain provides many families a supplementary household income between harvests of staple crops.

The production of shea nuts and butter are among the most accessible income-generating activities for rural women in Northern Ghana and contribute immensely to household food security.[2] More than 80 percent of activities in the region’s shea value chain are carried out by women,[3] including shea nut picking, processing and marketing.

The upsurge of globalization in the shea sector presents new opportunities to integrate shea into national and international value chains. However, constraints across the sector, including low quality shea kernels and butter for sale as well as a lack of negotiating power, severely limit how much the shea value chain can reduce women’s poverty and food insecurity. These constraints keep higher shea-related incomes and profits out of reach. 

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Research Design

This ALL-IN project, led from the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER) at the University of Ghana, seeks to integrate high-impact segments of the shea value chain in Northern Ghana. This mixed-methods research pairs a randomized controlled trial (RCT) with a full-scale qualitative study. The project includes 4,125 rural households across 165 communities selected in collaboration with Presbyterian Agricultural Services (PAS), META Foundation and the USAID Ghana office.

The project includes two core interventions. The first is to provide training to shea kernel processors to increasing the quality and yield of the shea butter they produce. In collaboration with PAS and MEF, the research team is training leaders in selected communities who will then provide training for their local women’s groups. The second intervention is a pre-financing contract with commercial buyers for up to one bag of shea kernels (about 85kg), which is worth approximately US $34. 

The RCT tests the two interventions’ impacts on community-level profits, producer price, women’s empowerment, food security, subjective welfare and other outcomes. To measure the true impact of these interventions, the 165 communities are randomly selected into three groups:

  • T1. Training: Participants receive training intervention only
  • T2. Training and marketing contract: Participants receive training plus a pre-financing-based marketing contract with shea kernel aggregators 
  • Control: Participants receive neither intervention

Development Impact

Over the past decade, the shea value chain has consistently featured in initiatives from the Government of Ghana, USAID and other development partners seeking to bridge the north-south divide in poverty and food security. This project could increase the profitability of shea processing by improving the coordination of supply and demand, which in turn could increase investments in the sector. 

Women in particular will benefit from strengthening the shea sector. Right now, women involved in the shea butter value chain do not derive the full value of their efforts because they often do not have the needed knowledge to produce kernels and butter that meet market standards. Strengthening a sector that can increase women’s access to cash income and overall social and economic empowerment could also bridge gender gaps in economic and social outcomes.

This project seeks to address two key challenges that keep women and their communities from higher profits and incomes related to the shea value chain. The training could increase the adoption of production, processing and storage practices required to meet those standards. Better prices for productivity, a greater total quantity of marketable shea products and better market coordination should all increase shea value chain profits, while also increasing women’s social and economic empowerment.


[1] Ghana Statistical Service, 2018
[2] Hatskevich et al. 2014. “Shea butter processing as an engine of poverty reduction in Northern Ghana: Case study of four communities in the Bolgatanga Municipality.” African Journal of Agricultural Research.
[3] Yayah, A. 2020. “Investigating the sustainability of the shea industry among rural women in Northern Ghana.” Stellenbosch University.


This report is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) cooperative agreement 7200AA19LE00004. The contents are the responsibility of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Markets, Risk and Resilience and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.