Shea butter production process near Chiana, Kassena Nankana District - Ghana. Photo by Axel Fassio/CIFOR

The struggle over shea

For over 200 years, women have managed the shea value chain, producing cooking oil and skin care products from the kernels of the shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa) for both home use and local and regional trade. It is the most widely occurring tree species in West Africa’s parklands, and Burkina Faso is a major exporter of shea kernels and shea butter.

But over the past 20 years the market has shifted to meet growing demand from BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) for Cocoa Butter Equivalents (CBEs) used primarily in the chocolate and confectionary industries.

This trend, along with climate change and agricultural encroachment, is threatening the shea parklands and the ecosystem services they provide. Yet only 2 percent of the national target to restore 5 million hectares of land by 2030 has been reached.

The IDRC-FTA-financed ‘Globalizations in a nutshell’ project sought to untangle the complex dynamics and gendered nature of the shea value chain, with the aim of improving the governance of shea parklands to lessen the impacts of economic and climate shocks on women producers.

A historical analysis of the shea trade since the late 19th century highlighted how various policies, the rise of local producer groups and access to new markets promoted shea processing and marketing while the degradation of parklands continued.

CIFOR-ICRAF co-hosted a National Shea Forum with the government of Burkina Faso in Ouagadougou in June 2021. The event drew more than 175 participants and culminated in a 10-point call to action that includes support for the development of a national parkland restoration program, shea tree domestication and genetic development, and the introduction of certification schemes. This outcome supports the development of a sustainable and equitable shea value chain in accordance with Burkina Faso’s National Climate Change Adaptation Plan.

Supported by International Development Research Centre (IDRC), FTA.

Harnessing the power of forests, trees and agroforestry


In 2021, as the Covid-19 pandemic started to turn a corner and new hope sprang from the launch of global initiatives on restoration and land use, CIFOR-ICRAF completed a successful three-year merger process, finishing the year with a project pipeline of USD 430 million and fully harmonized management, research and regional processes.

This report highlights some of our solutions to five global challenges: deforestation and biodiversity loss, climate change, dysfunctional food systems, unsustainable supply and value chains, and inequality. Achievements include informing national policies in Peru and Viet Nam, applying new technologies in the Congo Basin and India, and co-creating solutions with partners and communities in Indonesia and Cameroon – all while integrating considerations of the rights of women, Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

The Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) has reached over one billion people. The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) wrapped up 10 years of impact. And Resilient Landscapes is fast becoming a nexus between science, business and finance, with projects starting in Papua New Guinea, Serbia and Brazil.

With the momentum of a combined 70 years’ experience, CIFOR-ICRAF is forging ahead with its valued partners, finding new ways to harness the transformative power of forests, trees and agroforestry for a more resilient future.