Shea butter in Nigeria
Nuts of the African shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa) contain primary plant lipids that undergo an extraction process to give the fatty extract called shea butter. When raw, shea butter is ivory in color, hence the addition of a local dye from the root of the borututu plant or the use of palm oil, gives it the characteristic yellow color. The English word “shea” comes from s’í, the tree’s name in Bambara. Locally, shea butter is known by many names, such as kaɗe or kaɗanya in Hausa, òkwùmá in the Igbo language, òrí in the Yoruba language, karite in Senegal, and by several other names different parts of West Africa.
The shea tree grows naturally in the wild in the dry savannah belt of West Africa from Senegal in the west to Sudan in the east, and onto the foothills of the Ethiopian highlands. It occurs in 21 countries across the African continent, namely Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Sudan, Togo, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya and Guinea.(1)
The tree reaches fruit bearing age first from 10 to 15 years old, and begins full production from about 20 to 30 years old. It then produces nuts for up to 200 years, bearing fruit through the years.
The fruits of the Shea butter tree resemble large plums 4 to 8 centimetres long, weighing between 10 to 57 grams each. These fruits take 4 to 6 months to ripen, producing an average yield of 15 to 20 kilograms of fresh fruit per tree, with optimal yields up to 45 kilograms. Each kilogram of fruit gives approximately 400 grams of dry seeds.
Medicinal constituents of shea butter
Shea butter is popular in skin care and cosmetic product formulations in part due to the unusually high level (5–15%) of non-saponifiable lipid (NSL) constituents in the fat, which is a potentially rich source of vitamin E (a natural antioxidant).
About two-thirds of the vitamin E found in shea butter occurs in the form of alpha-tocopherol, a component that has the highest antioxidant activity among the tocopherols. The phenolic profile of shea butter is composed of catechin family compounds similar to those found in green tea, which has gained wide attention recently as an antioxidant-rich health beverage.
Shea butter also contains Vitamins A and F, which have pro-aging and moisturizing properties. Oleic, stearic, linoleic and palmitic acids are just some of shea butter’s fatty acids. These are excellent for the skin’s barrier and allow the butter to meld seamlessly with the natural oils on your skin.(2)
Extraction of Shea butter
In West Africa, shea butter is majorly produced by women using a traditional method otherwise known as the wet extraction process. Shea butter production has become one of the most accessible income generating activity for most women in the rural areas of Nigeria. According to statistics, about 80 per cent of shea butter produced in Nigeria, Ghana and other West African countries are extracted using traditional processing techniques. These traditional procedures are overly tasking and the production of substantial amounts of oil the process can take 20–30 hours. The total time required to process shea butter (for one cycle alone) is between 5–6 hours, and a kneading session can take as much as 30 minutes.
The procedures involved in the local extraction of shea butter fat from shea nuts include:
1. Kernel size reduction and dehydration
Size reduction can be done by pounding the selected seeds in the mortar using the pestle and further dehydration by roasting to aid oil extraction. The roasted grits of kernel are ground to pasteby y either the use of stones in the pure traditional extraction process or by the use of grinding mill in the semi–mechanized traditional method. The size reduction and further milling increases the surface area for effective hydrolysis during kneading.
A kneading process takes place to break up oil cells and ease oil extraction and women take an average time of 30 min to complete one kneading session. A kneading session involves taking a reasonable quantity of shea paste, adding an initial amount of about 3 litres of cold water, stirring slowly and then vigorously later, with the hand until the butter begins to rise in a crude milky–white form.
3. Heating, Oil separation and Cooling
Once kneading is over, the oily layer is harvested from the surface of the water layer leaving behind the water layer and particulate matter in the bottom of the container used for kneading. The oily layer or fat emulsion is washed with water, boiled to evaporate the water and the crude fat is obtained by decanting it or gently pouring it out. Afterwards it is left to solidify.(3)
Health benefits of shea butter
1. It is a natural skin moisturizer
Shea butter is typically used for its moisturizing effects. These benefits are tied to shea’s fatty acid content, including linoleic, oleic, stearic, and palmitic acids.
When you apply shea topically, these oils are rapidly absorbed into your skin. They act as a “refatting” agent, restoring lipids and rapidly creating moisture.
This restores the barrier between your skin and the outside environment, holding moisture in and reducing your risk of dryness.
2. It is anti-inflammatory
The plant esters of shea butter have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties.
When applied to the skin, shea triggers cytokines and other inflammatory cells to slow their production.
This may help minimize irritation caused by environmental factors, such as dry weather, as well as inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema.
3. It is naturally antibacterial
A 2012 study suggests that oral doses of shea bark extract can lead to decreased antimicrobial activity in animals.
Although more research is needed, this could indicate possible antibacterial benefits in humans.
Because of this, some speculate that topical application may decrease the amount of acne-causing bacteria on the skin.
4. It has great antifungal properties
Shea tree products have been established as powerful ingredients to fight skin infections caused by fungi.
While shea butter may not be able to treat every kind of fungal infection, we know that it kills spores of the fungi that causes ringworm and athlete’s foot.
5. It may help prevent acne
Shea butter is rich in different kinds of fatty acids. This unique composition helps clear your skin of excess oil (sebum).
At the same time, shea butter restores moisture to your skin and locks it in to your epidermis, so your skin doesn’t dry out or feel “stripped” of oil.
The result is a restoration of the natural balance of oils in your skin — which may help stop acne before it starts.
6. It helps boost collagen production
Shea butter contains triterpenes. These naturally occurring chemical compounds are thought to deactivate collagen fiber destruction.
This may minimize the appearance of fine lines and result in plumper skin.
7. It may help treat dandruff
One way to treat dandruff (atopic dermatitis) is to restore moisture to your dry and irritated scalp, and shea butter will help to do that as it is has an excellent skin moisturizing effect.
One 2018 review found that shea butter, when used in combination with other moisturizers, could help decrease dandruff flakes and reduce risk of flare-ups.
8. It can help promote wound healing
In addition to reducing underlying inflammation, shea is also linked to the tissue remodeling that’s crucial for treating wounds.
Its protective fatty acids may also help shield wounds from environmental irritants during the healing process.
9. It may help soothe muscle soreness
Muscles that have been overextended can be affected by inflammation and stiffness as your body repairs muscle tissue.
Shea butter may help sore muscles in the same way it may help joint pain — by reducing inflammation.
10. It may help relieve arthritis pain
Arthritis is caused by underlying inflammation in the joints, and in Nigerian traditional medicine, shea butter has long been used as a remedy for pains around the joint, caused by arthritis.
A 2016 animal study on shea oil concentrate suggests that it can help reduce inflammation while also protecting joints from further damage. Although this study focused on knee joints, these potential benefits could extend to other areas of the body.
The above listed benefits of shea butter come from its chemical makeup. Shea butter contains:
– linoleic, palmitic, stearic, and oleic fatty acids, ingredients that balance oils on your skin
– vitamins A, E, and F, antioxidant vitamins that promote circulation and healthy skin cell growth
– triglycerides, the fatty part of the shea nut that nourishes and conditions your skin
– cetyl esters, the waxy part of the shea nut butter that conditions skin and locks in moisture. (4)
Facts About Shea Butter Production in Nigeria
– Nigeria is the leading exporter of Shea nuts and Shea butter in the world.
– Nigeria has a comparative advantage in the processing and export of Shea butter in Africa over her counterparts due to the large land available for production
– Nigeria currently produces over 500,000 tons of shea nuts annually.
– Nigeria accounts for almost 60 per cent of the world’s supply of Shea nuts and Shea butter
– Nigeria generates about $3.8 billion every year from shea butter exportation
– The Shea butter industry in Nigeria is dominated by small scale production capacity of fewer than 0.1 tons per day.
– The Chinese are the largest importers of Shea butter from Nigeria.(5)
Nigeria literarily sits on a shea butter goldmine as the crop, which is grown in the wild in 20 of Nigeria’s 36 states, with Niger, Kwara and Oyo states having the largest production areas, according to Nigeria Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR).
“The opportunity to create wealth in the shea industry is enormous in Nigeria and Africa at large,” says Jubril Bokani, national president National Shea Producers Association of Nigeria (NASPAN).
“The conversion of 100,000 metric tonnes of shea nuts into about 48,000 metric tonnes of shea butter for export can generate about $72 million and economically sustain about 600,000 rural women,” Bokani explains.
“This shows that there exists a clear opportunity for Nigeria to create to wealth and employment to be driven by value addition and export of shea butter and cake,” he further says.
According to the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), global demand for shea butter is estimated at $10 billion and projected to surpass $30billion by 2020.
Currently, Nigeria is world’s largest producer of shea butter, producing 361,017 MT, according to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FOA)’s 2017 figures.
Ghana is the largest exporter in Africa, although most of the country’s exports are from Nigeria, experts say.
According to experts, Nigeria can double its shea butter production to 650,000MT for export with the domestication of the crop.
In 2016, the Nigeria Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR) said it had been able to reduce the long gestation period of the Karite tree from 20 to between five and seven years. But Nigeria is yet to develop a technology that will enable the domestication of the crop to further boost production.
“Nigeria can now boast of having shea trees that are flowering and fruiting after five years. What we need now is to focus on domesticating the crop,” Loius Inabule, researcher at NIFOR, tells BusinessDay.
Nigeria’s shea butter market is largely untapped and can yield over $3 billion annually, according to a Global Shea Alliance (GSA) briefing at the 6th International Shea Industry Conference in Abuja. (6)
1. Shea butter – Wikipedia
3. African Journal of Biochemistry Research – Shea butter extraction technologies: Current status and future perspective by Iddrisu Abdul-Mumeen, Didia Beauty and Abdulai Adam.
4. What Is Shea Butter? 22 Reasons to Add It to Your Routine
6. Nigeria’s shea butter production: Hard work for smooth skin