Cream of the crop
Shea butter cooperative bring about change in West Africa.
In tough economic times, every new job created is a thing to treasure. This is especially true in Mali, where the unemployment rate has hit 30 per cent and 60 per cent of the population lives in poverty. This challenging economic context makes the achievements of a partnership between Crossroads International and a West African organization helping generate employment and income for more 900 women even more remarkable. This project now serves as a model for co-operative development for the region.
Shea butter, a natural cream derived from the shea nut, has highly prized emollient properties and makes a luxurious soap. In West Africa, it also serves as cooking oil. To help women in rural Mali bring this valuable product to market, Crossroads International has partnered with l’Association malienne pour la promotion des jeunes (AMPJ). Together, the two organizations support local women who cultivate, package and export the butter to create income for their families.
“We sell all sorts of shea products: butter, pomade, lip balm, miniature soaps,” says Mariam Ouattara, manager of Coprokazan Shea Butter Cooperative in Mali. “Our products are created in the Malian tradition, but we’ve modernized them to suit foreign markets.”
"The objective of my internship in Quebec was to develop my capacities in terms of commercialization at an international, national, and regional scale," said Moriba, a Coprokazan commercial agent who was in Montreal this spring. "This exchange of knowledge has been an opportunity to work towards a better understanding of the issues and costs surrounding international exportation." “We’ve upgraded our packaging to sell the products in Quebec,” adds Mah Koné, the co-op’s president. “And [Crossroader] Ourida Anki helped us modernize our image. She also developed a new website for us.”
Ourida Anki is a Crossroads volunteer who completed a placement with the cooperative in 2010. Other Crossroaders with expertise in business and management have since continued Anki’s work, identifying markets for the co-op’s products and helping it to expand and engage more women. Coprokazan is a true success story, not only for those 900-plus women who receive an income from the co-op, but for their families and the more than 37 villages where they live and spend their wages.
These jobs would not exist if not for the hard work of Canadian volunteers and their partners, including l’Association malienne pour la promotion des jeunes (MPJ), which founded the cooperative alongside Crossroads back in 2006. Launched with just 99 members, Coprokazan has grown tenfold to encompass more than 900 women from at least 37 different villages. And the cooperative continues to grow. A recent Crossroads exchange saw members of the co-op heading to Niger to share their knowledge and experience there (see below).
The co-op does more than provide a way for women in rural Mali to make money. Through a range of other Crossroads-facilitated initiatives, members have been acquiring new skills and literacy. They are gaining status within their communities and families, achieving better health outcomes, helping deter violence against women and providing hope to the next generation of women.