The global shea value chain and its impacts on producer livelihoods in Northern Ghana: An assessment of effects and influences of the ‘Shea Value Chain Reinforcement Initiative

Start date: 5 May, 2012 End date: 14 June, 2012 Project type: Master's Thesis (prior to 2018) Project code: A17143 Countries: Ghana Institutions: Copenhagen Business School (CBS), Denmark Grant recipient: Laura Jakobeit Total grant: 14,000 DKK


The global shea value chain offers the potential to improve the living conditions of millions of poor women in the savannahs of West and Central Africa who collect shea nuts and process them to butter. However, their weak position within the shea GVC has impeded the women to reduce their poverty and vulnerability. Based on this, several initiatives have started to support shea women to improve their position in relation to the dominating buying and exporting companies. The ‘Shea Value Chain Reinforcement Initiative’ by the NGO PlaNet Finance represents such an initiative that facilitates an upgrading of shea women in Northern Ghana.
By changing the value chain dynamics the initiative does not only affect the women’s terms of GVC participation but also affects their livelihoods. The main purpose of this thesis is to reach an in-depth understanding of these effects and influences of the Initiative – importantly, from the perspective of the shea women. Based on these considerations, the research question is: “How does the ‘Shea Value Chain Reinforcement Initiative’ affect and/or influence the livelihood conditions of the shea nut collectors and shea butter processors in Northern Ghana?”. Applying a broader approach to GVC analysis, it is explored in how far and in which ways the Initiative has led to upgrading, how it affects or influences the women’s income and vulnerability context, and how gender relations might be affected or influenced.
The research is founded on critical realist philosophy, which emphasises context, relations, and understanding of peoples’ subjective reality. The data for this exploratory case study is based on six weeks of field research in Ghana. Thereby, participant observation and semi-structured in-depth interviews with 14 shea nut collectors and butter processors from Kpatinga constitute the main data for analysis and discussion of the research question. In addition, in order to build a sound understanding of the shea GVC, particularly of the structures and dynamics at place in the Northern Region, I conducted further semi-structured interviews with other GVC actors and women who were about to join the Initiative, and analysed secondary data.
The findings suggest that the terms of the shea women’s GVC participation and their livelihood conditions have improved through the Shea Initiative. Thereby, upgrading has played a key role. Importantly, the findings provide more in-depth insight and stress the following: the shea women’s context of vulnerability is crucial in assessing project effects and influences as there is a two-fold relation between the women’s vulnerability and their GVC participation; horizontal and vertical coordination are essential in improving the women’s position relative to powerful downstream chain actors; regularity of nut and butter orders has proven to be a significant factor in regards to the women’s context of vulnerability; and ‘other’ not expected issues have been discovered that provide insight in the meaning that the women attach to the occurred changes. Putting the findings into methodological context it was analysed how the discovered effects and influences can be related to causal powers stemming from the shea GVC and the women’s livelihood conditions.