Shea Butter Tree – Untapped Commercial Cash Crops
Shea Butter Tree – Untapped Commercial Cash Crops : Igwenazor Chinaemerem
Cash crops need no introduction to an average Nigerian. In our villages and the city, they are standing in many compounds and bushed unharnessed. To an average person, these cash crops are inherited or they emerge from the wild without humans planning their planting. Although there are many of such planted by people, a negligible few actually took to it as a real source of financial gain.
Among the cash crops that are popular among Nigerians are Palm trees, bamboo tree, oranges, mangoes, sour sop, avocado pear, paw-paw to mention a few. However there are thousands of others that people have no interest in neither are they cultivated in large scale in view of sustainable financial earning. Among these neglected cash crops are those with medicinal value – Shea Butter for example.
These medicinal cash crops or plants are plants entrepreneurs can invest in and make a living off it. They are capable of turning in unmeasured wealth and also create job for many directly with its long value chain. The profitability of these medicinal cash crops or plants lies in the fact that they are raw material used by a greater percentage of today’s pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries. The international network marketing companies can attest to this with the best of facts.
The wonderful information for many people who are investors in the agricultural sector in Nigeria is that thousands of these medicinal plants do excellently well on the Nigerian soil without much extra input. According to World Health Organization [WHO] the agricultural sector can support the drug and cosmetics industries with the production of about 21,000 medicinal plants. With the ever growing population in Nigeria, Nigerian farmers are poised to tap from the huge demand offered by drugs and cosmetics makers. The cultivation of these medicinal plants in Nigeria will offer these raw materials to our industries who spend large chunks of money to import these item quite often.
The practice of medicine and healing in Nigeria and Africa as a whole began with herbal mixture. The advent of Western influence directly diminished the trust in herbal healing which many now tagged with paganism and unmeasured efficacy. Along the line, there came an advocacy to return to nature as many chemical based drugs and cosmetics were found to pose adverse affects to the human cells. Today in the 21st century, the call to herbal based drugs are echoed daily thus a profitable agro business for those with a third eye in Nigeria. The green ginger tea, Aloe vera, Noni and Shea butter are among the top income generators among the medicinal plants. While plants like Noni and Shea butter takes more years to yield financial profits, a whole lot of others takes just few months to mature. For a plant like Ginger, it could be harvested about three  good times in a year.
For the Nigerian new agro investor, taking on medicinal plants in your agro business voyage is laced with multiples of great potentials. Such an investment adds to our bio-diversity and most importantly leaving a plum inheritance for the next generation.
Lets take a deep look at Shea Butter tree. In Nigeria, this tree in most places where you will get them today grew on their own. Its presence is visible in the north and the middle belt with little presence in the West. It takes a tree about 15 years to commence fruiting. At about the age of 30, its fruit production has peaked and it lasts for the next 200 years. On the average, a tree bears about 15-20kt of fruits annually.
In our contemporary Nigerian society, Shea butter plant produce is used to treat skin and hair challenges. It is deployed as a moisturizer in cream formulations. It is also a visible content of beauty products like lip gloss, skin care lotions and hair conditioners. Aside beauty products, it is used as a culinary oil in some climes. The properties of Shea butter extends to many industrial use – candle making is prominent among them. It helps the candle to burn brighter and slower. It is used in treating wood most especially those used in making musical appliances. It helps preserve the wood making the instrument to last longer. In the medicinal field, it holds sway as the nearest ointment in the treatment of bone related issues locally. In the formation of ointment suitable in treating arthritis, dermatitis and lots of other skin challenges, Shea butter is used as a base raw material.
You may also also have noticed that some range of beauty lotions have Shea butter as its main content. Nonetheless, young Nigerian ladies are running after raw Shea butter like never before. For many of them, using it as a body lotion smoothens the body and clears black spots. Many of the new generation mothers use it on their new born babies. They are of the opinion that it smoothens baby skin better than the ordinary baby lotions. Shea butter is referred to as Okwuma in Igbo dialect and Ori in Yoruba.
Irrespective of the fact that an economic tree like Shea butter tree is endowed with series of benefits to humans, its long gestation period makes investing in it unattractive to many. Also the crude process of extracting the butter from the nut is not encouraging to the new generation people. On the positive side of it all, solving the problem of extraction of the butter via designing and production of mechanized homemade machines are yet untapped potentials. Nonetheless, the nuts are sold fast in the open market as there are many scouts looking for it on daily bases.