In August 2008, Ten Thousand Villages introduced a new line of shea butter personal care products created by artisans in Ghana. Bar soaps from All Pure Nature Ventures, and body cream from El Agbe Company Limited are made with local shea butter—processed from shea nuts and believed to have a wide range of health promotion and healing benefits. For generations, people in West Africa have used shea butter to moisturize and protect skin, to treat eczema and sunburn, as an anti-inflammatory and even as cooking oil.
“I wanted to start with the earth,” said All Pure Nature founder Gladys Commey of her motivation in starting the company. In developing her line of body care products, Commey sought to use only eco-friendly, biodegradable ingredients. The shea butter is combined with herbs and essential oils; All Pure Nature’s products, including the soaps, contain no artificial ingredients.
Comfort Akorfa Adjahoe, founder of Ele Agbe, explained that processing shea is a lengthy, multi-step process. After harvesting, the nuts must be sorted to remove moldy and insect-infested nuts, as well as any other organic materials. After this, the nuts are washed, cracked and roasted for one to two hours. The roasted nuts are put through a grinder, after which the mass must be kneaded, either by hand or with a mixer. This paste is then boiled, with some water added to help the oil separate from the solids. This “butter” is skimmed off and churned or stirred until it congeals. The shea butter is then ready for use in producing soap, body cream and other products.
Both All Pure Nature and Ele Agbe provide valuable employment in Ghana. Commey works with a group of women in the north of Ghana who harvest and process the shea nuts. She is also training these women to make the soap itself, which will provide them with additional valuable income.
Ele Agbe also works with women in northern Ghana, through the Christan Mothers Association. The association, established in 1960, helps single mothers, women whose husbands have died or who abandoned their families. El Agbe employs approximately 60 women, providing vital income for women supporting their families alone.