Tuesday, May 06, 2008

JP, who is always alert to any chance to keep me entertained, brought home this page from the Air France in-flight magazine.

It’s an ad for L’Occitane (expensive skin care product makers) that is thinly disguised as a piece of journalism.

Too bad it's so silly.

Reading the caption would lead anyone to think that the woman in the picture must be happily watering her lucrative crop of shea-plants. But a quick look reveals that she is tending her cabbages.

A shea nut tree looks like this:

Not much like a cabbage, is it?

Why they depicted this lady out in her garden, I have not clue.

And the caption is even worse in French, as it says that the gathering of shea nuts is what makes money for these women. Ad the accompanying article (not reproduced here- no room) makes that point again.

Here's a few things about shea trees, nuts and butter:

They are trees that must grow for 15 years before they start producing nuts. Each tree produces only about 45 pounds of nuts per year.

When the nuts are ripe, they fall to the ground. So, gathering them is really not labour intensive. What IS very intensive is the amount of labour required to make butter out of the raw nuts. This labour is done exclusively by women.

It involves taking off the pulp, breaking the inner shell, roasting the nuts, then grinding and mixing the paste by hand. It is lots of work, and like many things done by women here, it doesn’t pay that much.

But the while article talks a lot about the “cultivation of shea butter nuts”, there's not one word about the labor actually involved. It is invisible.

Meanwhile, here in Burkina, more and more women are forming cooperatives for shea butter production and sales. Some of the bigger groups are even able to buy simple machines that make the work less backbreaking. So, I have been heartened by the increased use of shea butter in various beauty products. And I guess it’s nice to see West Africa in the media, but I wish they’d get it right. Especially if they want us to buy their over-priced products.


babzee said...

I'm a big shea butter fan and use a lot of it in my massage practice. I generally buy 100% unrefined butter (from Togo) and mix it with pure coconut oil, sometimes adding tea tree oil or wintergreen oil for feet.

Nice to have photographs of the "roots of the nut butter". I will print them out to show clients!

strudel said...

Burkina ladies could visit


To get the oil from the nut, a crushing machine is needed that Mr. Kamara at FINIC luckily has in operation at a village, Masumana about 90 miles away. We loaded up the truck and the nuts and spent a great day watching the crusher in action. We ended up with 20 litres of oil and a by product of this process is fed to the pigs.

Benoit Lescarbeau said...

We've received people from shea cooperatives of Mali and Burkina Faso last week-end, in Montreal. Not only are they diversifying their work methods, they're planning on starting lots of new products. That shea jam sounded intriguing.

Anyway, hope you get better soon! We're leaving tomorrow for ouaga, so if you could also try getting us some nice weather, it would be greatly appreciated.

Here, There, Elsewhere... and more said...

I couldn't agree with you more - I get so rattled at the way advertisers always feel the need to modify reality "elsewhere" to suit western/northern hemisphere audiences as if it's more "palateable" if it resembles our own environment...
I don't believe in treating others as morons, wherever they may originate from or live :)