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Shea Butter Processors Decry Poor Post-harvest Handling

Shea butter processors in Uganda have raised concern over the poor quality of shea kernels which they say result from post-harvest mismanagement.

The concerns were raised during the commemoration of World Shea Day for the first time in Uganda on Friday, July 16th, 2021.  The online event, which was organized by Agro Value Added Association and Extension Services (AVAAES), in collaboration with Makerere University attracted more than 152 participants from all over Africa.

The commemoration was themed; Enhancing productivity and market potential of Nilotica Shea for improved livelihoods: Take action now.

Laloyo Margaret, the Founder and Marketing Manager of Blessed Organic Release in Pader district, who was the keynote speaker, noted that post-harvest handling from collecting the shea fruits, to drying the kernels, is a key pace-setter for quality management in the shea nut value chain.

The value chain of shea nuts is very long, starting from collecting the fruits, removing the pulp from the fruit to get the nuts, drying the nuts, and threshing nuts to get the shea kernels.

Laloya said, although all these processes need to be critically handled to keep the quality, they are not being followed.

“It is like a relay, when someone starts the race, runs fast and gives the button to the next person carefully, that gives the pace that, that group might win,” she said.

“The most critical point is when we shell the nuts to reveal the kernels, because when exposed to dirt, dust and any chemical, it will affect the quality of the shea butter,” Laloyo said.

Laloya blamed those who believe that post-harvest handling is only for the collectors, saying it is part of the cultural and professional myth affecting the quality of shea butter.

The traders, she said are also to blame for buying shea kernels in desperation, without minding how the collectors managed them right from the point of collection to bagging.

“They buy from any seller in whatever quantity. Whether one that has been dried for one day, one week, two days, and it is all bulked together. That would cause molding and contamination, and because of that, the consistent quality of shea butter from East Africa has been lacking,” she said.

She revealed that although Uganda has a very high quality of shea nuts, a huge percentage is lost to post-harvest. She cited that between 2017-18, Uganda lost 65 % of shea nuts after harvesting.

The target market for shea butter is cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and food industries. These, she said, require very high quality of kernels which if not adhered to, will force buyers to go for refined which have consistent quality, instead of organic shea butter, since they have consistent quality.

“And because of that, there is a need for increasing the level of critical control point in the quality management of shea kernel. So, we call upon everyone to embrace proper evidence-based training on how quality management at post-harvest has to be done, for us to set the procedures and protocols, unique for of shea nut variety,” Laloyo said.

Dr. Udongo Betty, Botanist and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Nile Tropical Industries noted that for the past 20 years that she has been in the shea butter business; the biggest challenge is in maintaining high quality, because of difficulty in tracing the origin of the nuts.

Because of these challenges, Udongo decided to stop collecting and processing shea nuts, and is now adding value to the value-added shea butter.

“I just decided to wait for others who have managed to get for me the shea butter, then make the cosmetics, the soaps and all the other shea butter products,” she said.

Dr. Omujal Francis, a Research Officer at Ministry of Health encouraged the shea butter processors to develop a technology for shelling the shea nuts, and good ways of storage to prevent molding of the kernels.

According to Omujal, currently, 80% of production of shea butter is done traditionally, which he said is cumbersome, with minimal potential to improve quality.

Okello Tom, the Executive Director of National Forestry Authority, on the other hand noted that much as people are concerned about the quality of shea butter, there is need to worry about the fast-disappearing shea parklands.

Okello said the woodland which is the principal habitat of shea trees decreased from 3.9 million hectares in 1990 to 1.2 million hectares 2019.

“This is where the problem is. We are talking of challenges, affecting the shea butter production but the habitat is being destroyed in the country and being converted to agricultural land,” Okello said.

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