The Shea sector in Niger State, Nigeria, has long been characterized by abundant Shea trees and a vast potential for economic growth. However, despite this, Shea products from Nigeria remained largely unrecognized in the international markets primarily due to quality concerns that limit access to premium markets. This case study delves into the efforts to transform the Shea sector by focusing on sustainability and certification. It highlights the critical role of certifications in gaining access to global markets and promoting sustainable practices.
Niger State, Nigeria, boasts the largest population of Shea trees globally, forming a 1000-kilometer stretch from Sahel to Sudan. An astonishing 57% of this expansive belt lies within Nigeria’s borders, with Niger State alone hosting 54% of this share. Despite this abundance, Nigeria’s Shea products were predominantly part of informal trade and illicit smuggling routes, lacking visibility in the international market. The need for transformation became evident, with a focus on enhancing the value of Shea products, ensuring responsible sourcing, traceability, and sustainability. This case study aims to shed light on the challenges and successes of this transformation.
The Shea sector in Niger State was historically plagued by deforestation and undervaluation of Shea trees. Women, primarily, would gather Shea nuts from the fields, receiving inadequate compensation. Informal trade and even illicit smuggling routes have dominated the landscape, stretching from Niger State to Kebbi State and spanning neighboring countries like Benin, Ghana, and Burkina Faso. Investigations revealed a critical discrepancy — companies were reportedly sourcing Shea nuts internationally, even from places like South Africa without Shea trees.
The government of Niger State intervened, shifting the focus towards sustainability and value addition. However, the lack of sustainable certification in Nigeria posed a significant challenge; as adherence to international standards, traceability, and responsible sourcing became paramount to being a significant player in the international market. Assertions of organic status based solely on wild growth were challenged as organic claims must adhere to specific protocols, including delineating pesticide-free zones and cultivating practices. Adherence to these standards and protocols can only be substantiated by certifications.
Furthermore, there was a clear knowledge gap concerning sustainable certification. National regulatory and product control authorities had a limited understanding of various international certification bodies and their specific requirements. This knowledge gap motivated a proactive pursuit of knowledge about international certifications and potential certification partners. Although the process of engaging certification partners posed initial challenges due to the rigorous processes and standards mandated by these certifying bodies, the determined efforts eventually yielded success. Consequently, several organic farms achieved certification, marking a significant achievement in the quest for sustainability and international recognition.
The transformation of the Shea sector in Niger State yielded substantial outcomes. What began with just four certified organic farms has expanded to more than 30. This accomplishment serves as both a testament to resilience and a catalyst for further growth.
Nevertheless, challenges remain, especially in educating the market on the importance of sustainability, traceability, and certification. Mismatched demands for certification persist due to a lack of understanding within the market. However, the realization that certifications are market-driven and essential for accessing lucrative markets like the Middle East, the United States, and the European Union is taking root.
In conclusion, this case study emphasizes that certification is not merely a declaration of product characteristics but a validation of adherence to rigorous standards demanded by global markets. It also emphasizes the commitment to education and sustainable practices as a means to steer Nigerian agricultural endeavors toward sustainable growth and global recognition.
FutuX Agri-consult Limited is committed to training agribusinesses on sustainable certification while also handholding them in the process of achieving sustainable certifications such as Global G.A.P., Union of Ethical Biotrade (UEBT), Rainforest Alliance Certification, Organic Certification (E.U. and NOP), HACCP, Halal, ISO 22000.
This case study draws on the experiences and expertise of Annabel Kamuche (MD, NICERT Group) who was involved in developing the roadmap for the Shea sector in Niger State.