Buttering up the Production of Nigerian Shea Butter

Shea Butter
Shea Nut
Published Jul 25, 2019
Nigeria is the biggest producer of shea nuts. Despite this, its exports are dwindling, as only 7% of total shea nut production is processed into the much more valuable end product: shea-butter. The Nigerian government is currently investing in shea butter processing facilities and training.

Nigeria is the biggest producer of shea nuts worldwide. It produces around 450K metric tons annually, which amounts to 57% of global production. Nigeria has long been the main producer of the nut, and for a long time, it was the main exporter as well. However, it currently exports only around 50K metric tons of the nut per year, and only 7% of the total production is processed into the much more valuable end-product: shea butter.

Nigeria has a production capacity of around 800K metric tons annually, which is double the current demand. The nut is produced in the Northern and Southern parts of the country, in the states of Niger, Kwara, Kogi, Benue, Oyo, and Kebbi. However, most trees are still wild and uncultivated, which leads to production losses. The shea season runs from the start of July until the end of September, with a peak in August. In this season, the market prospects look favorable, due to an increase in exporters, which implies an increase in demand.

Nigeria exports the nuts rather than the more valuable end product: shea butter. Shea butter would provide more revenue to Nigerian exporters. According to Arrahman Procurement Services Limited, the Nigerian shea nut has a low fat content and a high proportion of unsaponifiable matter, consisting of approximately 70% of triterpene alcohol. This could make Nigerian shea butter a highly sought-after item for cosmetics. However, the Nigerian shea butter industry is still in its infancy. Production processes need to improve further before quality shea butter can be exported. This is the main reason why neighboring countries with lower nut productions have higher export values, as they process their nuts and export the processed products.

Arrahman Procurement Services Limited says that there are two reasons for the low shea butter production. Firstly, there is a lack of relevant technologies that could turn shea nuts into butter. Due to a lack of investment, most of the Nigerian facilities are not able to produce high-quality shea butter. Secondly, the government has not paid attention to this industry for a long time, so proper regulations have been lacking.

However, Arrahman Procurement Services Limited is optimistic about the future. Already over the last two years, the government has “trained over 350 women and youths on best practices on seed handling techniques, picking, and drying.” Furthermore, they have also upgraded two production facilities to improve efficiency. Further plans to improve the shea industry are being made. Besides funding technological advancements to shorten the gestation period of the shea trees, the government is also focusing on implementing regulations that would establish mechanized processing facilities and certification of Nigerian shea nuts producers.

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