In November of 2019, BamCashea finally raised the funds to purchase a stainless-steel grain processing mill in order to maximize efficiency of the 13-step process of producing shea butter from shea nuts. This reduces the hours of labor– by several days– that the women of the Norntoma Cooperative spend processing shea nuts into butter. After collecting, de-pulping, drying, and cracking the shea nuts, women can now grind the nuts with a machine rather than pounding them in small batches by hand. Once the nuts are crushed, they are then fried, and ground again into a paste. This second grind will also be mechanized by a mill, whereas the nut bits were previously smashed in small batches by mortar and pestle. There are many more steps before the paste is finally hand-whipped into butter by the aluminum pan, but perhaps this gives you a glimpse of why BamCashea is motivated to change the fact that these women —here, and all over the shea growing regions– are often paid less than 1 USD per kilogram of shea butter.
So, this piece of equipment we purchased from a connection Isaac and Tabatha had made in Ghana with the inspiring Kumasi Institute of Tropical Agriculture (KITA), was contracted to a man outside the city who required an 80% down payment (mostly to finance the purchase of his materials) and we waited for delivery. Almost a month after ordering the mill, the man was suddenly unreachable. This is tricky in a lot of ways, but most notably because it is still possible to ‘disappear’ in Ghana. 5 cedis (1 USD) can get you a new SIM card (with a new number) and then -poof! – you are gone to those who don’t know you personally. Luckily, Isaac had a friend who knew the mill manufacturer well, and in another stroke of situational fortune, Treasurer Alice discovered some relatives live nearby Kumasi where the shop was. Alice and the Cooperative decided to act and sent Alice to stay with her family, and to visit the shop every day supervising the man until the mill was completed.
Finally, and even though the man had not paid for its transportation, Alice arrived back in Bamboi with the processing mill. The women were elated, until solemnly and quickly discovering the motor that was placed inside the mill was not the right electrical phase for the wiring. There are no electricians within the Norntoma Cooperative, nor the board of BamCashea; however upon previous consultation with Olo, the Cooperative’s local electrician, we had specifically ordered a three phase motor for the type of electrical wiring set-up at the Norntoma Center. The 15 Hp motor delivered was a single phase, which will require the Center to be re-wired to accommodate the equipment. And to add insult to a slow injury, many of the essential parts for the mill’s operation were not included (such as the belt and power switch).
As you can imagine, no one is happy with the situation at hand, but this type of business transaction is unfortunately so commonplace in many parts of the world and why this article is simply an anecdote from another place on our planet – one without warranties or guarantees—where things aren’t so easy. It is hard to be unimpressed by the women’s level of tolerance, who take it all in graceful stride as they have most of their lives. The Executive Director Tabatha, on the other hand, was not so poised for accepting the poor performance.
Tabatha has pushed for local manufacturing of equipment rather than international imports, both to infuse the local economy with capital from BamCashea’s donors, and encourage the development of local skills in high-quality natural resource processing equipment. BamCashea and the Norntoma Cooperative had intended to work with this manufacturer for the foreseeable future in the acquisition of things like a hydraulic oil press and distillation equipment, to broaden their resource processing horizons, but this threw a serious wrench in our plans. Long story short, a handwritten message was sent via What’sApp images to the mill manufacturer with an avenue for him to repair the relationship, but that it would not be easy to make up for the violation of our trust and established expectations. Our hopes are not high, but finding a new manufacturer in Ghana may not have great odds either.
The Cooperative has already arranged for Olo and the Volta River Authority to upgrade the electric wiring at the center, and Isaac has gathered enough support from community members to purchase the remainder of the small and essential parts to get the mill running. They are relentlessly shooting for their goals to generate income and livelihoods from the local hard labor, encourage more pride in products made locally in Ghana, and develop an industry in Bamboi that discourages deforestation.
You can check out some the amazing work that BamCashea and the Norntoma Cooperative have accomplished in the last year, and some of the talented women that are binding together for good at BamCashea.org. We are currently looking ahead to shea season, beginning in late March, and are currently fundraising to purchase bags of shea – at prices above market value due to the labor that harvest entails — to be stored properly and whipped into beauty products sold by the cooperative for profit. Each bag is 85kg and ran about 300 Ghana cedis in 2019. This translates to roughly 60 US Dollars and represents almost a week of nut collection for a single woman on average. This year we would like to purchase at least 12 bags for the Cooperative, as capital for the year of processing ahead, and we would love your help. Go to Bamcashea.org/donate to give what you can today!
BamCashea is a female, volunteer-run, Portland OR based 501(c)3 non-profit working in Ghana to improve the resiliency of rural livelihoods and natural resources.