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The sustainability of shea butter

Updated: Jul 10, 2023

All across the internet, you can find a variety of sources recommending the use of shea butter for all kinds of purposes. But what is this miraculous shea butter? Shea butter is the fat of the shea nut. It is often used as a cosmetic and cooking ingredient and has several benefits. Skincare-wise, it can help with moisture, oil balance, inflammation, and acne. In cooking, the oil is often used because of its heat tolerance as well as the added nutritional benefits it adds.


Shea butter in a jar

Currently, the shea butter market is valued at $2.6 billion, with a staggering worth of $5.5 billion expected by 2023. Uniquely, it has been described as ‘pro-poor’ and ‘pro-women’ because of the benefits it provides to its often poor female harvesters. Specifically, shea butter harvesting brings in around $200 million every year, which often goes to impoverished families and, importantly, stays within the hands of women.


Shea butter is also sustainable. Since shea trees capture more CO2 than they release, they are carbon negative. Shea trees are also a large part of crop farming systems. These systems provide beneficial impacts for farmers, such as increasing soil fertility, and decreasing the likelihood of floods and fires.


Unfortunately, environmental degradation is threatening shea trees and the benefits they provide. Commercial agriculture, charcoal production, and mining are just a few of the industries impacting the trees. Some farmers are also chopping shea trees down in favor of gaining and selling land, something they see as their only option. Combined, these factors have contributed to the loss of around 8 million trees each year, threatening the tree population and economic opportunities for poor communities and women.


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