AAK is the world leader in shea, trading more than 200.000 tons of kernels each year from West Africa (WA). However, upscaling the business is challenging as shea is collected from wild-grown trees and the lack of infrastructure complicates transportation conditions. The shea oil has been used in food for more than fifty years and within cosmetic and personal care products from the early 1980s, for instance by L’Oréal. The demand for vegetable oils based on shea is progressively growing and is forecasted to double within 5 years.
The overall aim of Sheaine is to ensure a steady sustainable supply of high-quality shea kernels. This is achieved by understanding the chemistry along the shea kernel life cycle and by developing best practices for collection, pre-treatment, storage and extraction. Implementation will first be focused on Ghana and then expanded to other shea producing countries in WA.
The shea tree’s maturation period is 40 years and implementation of shea plantations is currently not economically feasible. However, a vast number of shea trees are unexploited and represent a potential source for business expansion if an increased incentive for collecting these kernels is implemented. Understanding of the drivers influencing shea collectors and how to motivate expansion of shea collection is not well understood. Therefore, studies to understand the social and structural mechanisms behind shea collection in Ghana are needed. An aspect is the financial motivation that can be increased by raising the price of kernels. To increase the prices of kernels and thereby the collection, higher profit can be generated by increasing the kernel quality. The quality of the shea kernels is highly fluctuating. The kernels are currently partly degraded and degradation products from the oils such as free fatty acids (FFAs) and diacylglycerol (DAG) are abundant, often representing 10-20% in total of the extractable lipids.