Much of the world’s shea supply comes to Denmark for processing into shea-based speciality oils and fats. We talked to AAK about their sustainable sourcing programme.
Thousands of West African women have gained better opportunities to feed their families and send their children to school since 2009. That was the year when AAK launched its Kolo Nafaso programme to buy shea kernels directly from the women who harvest them in the wild.
Today more than 134,000 women in the Sahel belt are members of the programme – and it’s not just the women and their families who benefit. For the company that produces speciality vegetable fats and oils for chocolate confectionery and many other food products, Kolo Nafaso is a clear win-win.
“We source shea kernels of high quality and with full traceability so we can meet the growing global demand for shea-based products while ensuring the best possible supply chain. The women get support and training from our extension officers, pre-financing for their harvest when money is short, a fair price and a long-lasting business relationship,” says Torben Friis Lange, president of global sourcing and trading for the AAK Group.
AAK uses the shea kernels in its speciality fat solutions for chocolate and personal care products, such as skin moisturisers. Of the total volume of exported shea kernels, a large share arrive at Aarhus port, where they are processed in the large AAK plant. Around 10% come from the women in the Kolo Nafaso programme.
The women are organised in groups. Over the years, they have often used their stable income from AAK to improve the quality of life in their whole community. In Northern Ghana, for example, some women’s groups have invested their annual bonus in renovating the local water boreholes and school.
AAK’s local extension officers also train the women in good agricultural practices and other useful skills. This includes teaching them to build efficient rocket stoves for boiling the shea kernels – the first step to ensuring the high quality of the speciality fats.
“The rocket stoves use up to 65% less wood than traditional stoves, which means the CO2emissions are significantly lower. Once the kernels arrive in Aarhus, we extract the oil content and then sell the rest for use in biogas and production of other forms of green energy. So nothing gets wasted. It is all part of a circular economy.” Torben Friis Lange explains.
Securing future supplies
As demand for shea-based solutions grows, AAK continues to expand the Kolo Nafaso programme.
“By expanding the programme’s reach, we can support as many women as possible while securing our shea supplies. We want to play an active role in securing the shea industry of the future. There are many challenges. So we are always interested in working with new partners who have an interest in developing the industry,” Torben says.