Besides providing cooking fuel like charcoal and firewood, most locals in Otuke district for a long time did not know of any other uses of the highly-prized shea nut tree.
However, through Okere Shea Cooperative Society in Otuke district, locals there have been educated that oil from the shea nut is highly sought after to make skin and hair products.
Ojok Okello, the brain behind Okere Shea Cooperative Society, says before they started pressing oil from the nuts for skin and hair, 90 percent of the nuts would be sold to middlemen at a cheap price, while 10% was used to make edible oil locally known as moo yaa which is eaten at home and sold in the local markets.
“Our most important achievement was to help locals realize that shea nut can be used for so much more and not just for eating with food, which has made them value the crop and therefore think twice before cutting it down for cooking fuel,” Ojok said.
Now, he says, the women each earn a minimum of Shs 500,000 every year from sales of the shea nut butter oil.
In addition, Okere Shea cooperative has embarked on planting organic shea nut trees to replace those cut down for charcoal.
“We are insisting on planting the trees in their natural form. The shea nut can only be grown when the nuts have just fallen from the tree. They are buried, and after they sprout, they are then kept in a nursery bed,” Ojok said.
The cooperative has so far planted 1,000 shea nut tree seedlings and aims to make it an annual project. The shea nut tree matures in 15-20 years.
Acen Mary, a member of Okere Shea Cooperative is happy to have discovered the diverse potential of the shea nut.
“I feel good that we are making better use of the shea nut. We did not know that it could be used for other things apart from eating the fruit and its wood for cooking.”
She said that the Otuke-based group, which has 270 registered members-mainly women, presses its Shea nuts into oil from Yumbe district because they do not have a machine to do the job locally. As a result, a significant portion of their potential profit margin is spent on transportation costs.
The shea nut pressing machine is estimated to cost Shs 180m.
“We would wish to press the nuts from here so that we can maximize our profits. We have applied for funding under Uganda Women Empowerment Program-UWEP but we have not yet got the money,” She said.
Opio Charles, the Otuke District Commercial Officer, says Okere Shea Cooperative has helped the women in the group sell their product collectively and, in the process, improve on their livelihoods.
“I work closely with Okere Shea Cooperative and we have given them training on value addition and marketing. They currently sell their products in Lango, Kampala, and Gulu,” Opio said.
He said that he is working to help the group benefit from the UWEP funds so that they improve on the quality of their product.
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