A common ingredient in cosmetics is helping to lift rural women out of poverty.

This is shea butter. And you may not know it, but it's in a lot of products you use every day.

Left: Photo by gtknj/Flickr. Right: Altered photo by Kazuhiro Keino/Flickr.


Most people first encounter shea butter as a beauty cream, typically used for skin and hair products. But it's also a common ingredient in medicine, cooking oils, and even chocolate bars.

But perhaps one of shea butter's lesser known, but most important, qualities is this: It's helping to provide well-paying, consistent employment for women in West Africa.

While shea is a hot commodity, procuring it isn't easy.

Shea trees are plentiful in Western Africa, but they take decades to mature and produce fruit — anywhere from 15 to 40 years.

A grove of shea trees in Burkina Faso. Photo by Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images.

"There's a nut, with a very, very smoothy, shiny surface," Rosanah Fung, General Manager of SeKaf Ghana Limited, a social enterprise connected with the shea butter industry, told Upworthy. "Inside that nut is a very small kernel shaped like an almond. Inside that almond is how people make shea butter and shea oil."

A woman holds shea nuts in her hands. Photo by Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images.

And harvesting and processing shea butter is a skill many mothers in rural West Africa pass down to their daughters.

The women will harvest the fruit from shea trees in their villages and make small batches of shea butter using their own home-taught methods.

A woman processes shea kernels into shea butter. Photo by Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images.

But while the demand for shea butter — in and outside of Western Africa — is great, there are two problems: With each family using their own time-honored recipe and method, how do you make each batch consistent? And how do you keep up with global demand?

Enter Senyo Kpelly, a businessman from Southern Ghana who recognized the growing popularity of shea butter worldwide.

In 2003, he founded the commodity trading company SeKaf Ghana with his high school friend; at the time, it was mostly an import/export company. But the pair were having trouble setting themselves apart from the competition.

They realized shea butter was gaining popularity worldwide and decided to focus their energy on this growing commodity.

Because it's traditionally harvested and made by women, some call shea butter "women's gold." Photo by Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images.

To learn all he could about making shea butter, Kpelly traveled to Northern Ghana. He settled in Tamale, smack-dab in the middle of a Sub-Saharan belt that runs from Western Africa to Uganda. It's a poor area with limited resources, but plenty of shea.

What Kpelly saw in Tamale opened his eyes to an opportunity to bring an African-made product to the masses and uplift women and communities in the process.

In 2008, Kpelly created the SeKaf Shea Butter Village to process shea butter on a massive scale using local talent.

The SeKaf Shea Butter Village brings women together in Kasalgu, a small village about 3.75 miles away from Tamale, to harvest and process shea fruit into shea butter.

Women who work at SeKaf can bring their babies and children to work with them and socialize while they process shea butter using a more uniform, consistent method.

The village is now a model for other shea butter villages in Ghana and Nigeria. Photo by SeKaf Ghana, used with permission.

Not only did SeKaf Shea Butter Village improve the quality of the product, the village is now a model for others like it in other parts of Ghana and Nigeria.

It also provides stable employment for thousands of rural Ghanaian women at the SeKaf Shea Butter Village and beyond.

The best part? The women, representing 22 communities in Western Africa, run the shea butter processing from beginning to end.

There are currently 3,215 women registered as shea collectors, who manage the process from fruit to kernel, and just under 200 shea butter processors, who turn the kernels into shea butter.

SeKaf buys both the seeds and finished butter from the women, meaning they get paid for the harvest AND for their finished product.

SeKaf Shea Butter Village women using fuel efficient stoves for the boiling stage of the shea butter process. "These stoves require less firewood and the chimneys divert the smoke to improve women's health and safety issues," Fung told Upworthy. Photo by SeKaf Ghana, used with permission.

The women at SeKaf are also trained to be certified organic suppliers. Having an organic, sustainable supply chain is not only good for the environment, it's also good for the women.

"If you have organic premium quality shea butter, you can get even higher prices," Fung told Upworthy. "The higher prices will trickle down to the women. So by going organic, we are paying the women an average of 15% premium of the market price for their shea nuts."

SeKaf is also piloting a financial literacy program to help their employees manage their income, save for the future, and gain autonomy.

Photo by SeKaf Ghana, used with permission.

The shea season runs about four months out of the year, so making shea butter is a part-time job, but the team at SeKaf wanted to ensure that the women have sustainable income year-round.

"If they need money, they have to ask their husbands, they have to ask their relatives," Fung said. "They don't really have any financial independence. So when you don't really have financial independence. You don't really have any power or agency, because you're always depending on someone else. You're indebted to someone else."

In two communities, the company is piloting Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) initiatives through their SeKaf Success to Sustainable Livelihood program.

Women count their earnings at the VSLA share-out event in June. Photo by SeKaf Ghana, used with permission.

There are no banks or credit unions in many of the rural communities, but through VSLA, the women can pool their money together where it can accrue interest. They also have weekly meetings and training on how to save and why it's important. An assigned record keeper helps them keep track of their funds, and the women can provide loans to each other for starting side businesses or sending their children to school.

"They haven't had opportunities for any literacy, let alone financial literacy," Fung explained. "...just because they don't have formal education, doesn't mean they're not smart. They're amazing."

And the women have been able to save a lot of money already! In the first year of the program, around 60 women were able to save 8,500 Ghanaian cedis (around $2,200). That's an especially impressive figure considering minimum wage in Ghana is seven Ghanaian cedis (around $1.80) a day.

The VSLA share-out event. Photo by SeKaf Ghana, used with permission.

SeKaf will continue to provide jobs for women in West Africa for many years to come.

Though he's helped revolutionize the shea butter industry in Africa, Senyo Kpelly's work is never done. These days, he's focusing his efforts on the environment and the sustainability of the business, particularly the decades it takes to grow a viable shea tree.

"[SeKaf Ghana and Global Shea Alliance] are working with many research institutes in West Africa, and we are working with the world agroforesty center," he told Upworthy. "So together, we hope to address the issue of the long gestation period."

Recently, Kpelly also launched Tama cosmetics, a high-end line of soaps, lotions, and body oils made with the SeKaf shea butter. The products are available in a few countries in Western Africa, as well as Saudi Arabia, the U.K., and Vietnam — and is currently testing in a small market in the U.S..

Photo by SeKaf Ghana, used with permission.

But even with the company's success, Kpelly's proudest moments still come from supporting and uplifting the women of his home country.

"I think my happiest moment is last month," he said. "The women said they are no [longer] poor."

Photo by SeKaf Ghana, used with permission.

And to think ... it all started with a kernel.

More
Youtube

Should a man lose his home because the grass in his yard grew higher than 10 inches? The city of Dunedin, Florida seems to think so.

According to the Institute of Justice, which is representing Jim Ficken, he had a very good reason for not mowing his lawn – and tried to rectify the situation as best he could.

In 2014, Jim's mom became ill and he visited her often in South Carolina to help her out. When he was away, his grass grew too long and he was cited by a code office; he cut the grass and wasn't fined.

France has started forcing supermarkets to donate food instead of throwing it away.

But several years later, this one infraction would come back to haunt him after he left to take care of him's mom's affairs after she died. The arrangements he made to have his grass cut fell through (his friend who he asked to help him out passed away unexpectedly) and that set off a chain reaction that may result in him losing his home.

The 69-year-old retiree now faces a $29,833.50 fine plus interest. Watch the video to find out just what Jim is having to deal with.

Mow Your Lawn or Lose Your House! www.youtube.com

Cities

The world officially loves Michelle Obama.

The former first lady has overtaken the number one spot in a poll of the world's most admired women. Conducted by online research firm YouGov, the study uses international polling tools to survey people in countries around the world about who they most admire.

In the men's category, Bill Gates took the top spot, followed by Barack Obama and Jackie Chan.

In the women's category, Michelle Obama came first, followed by Oprah Winfrey and Angelina Jolie. Obama pushed Jolie out of the number one spot she claimed last year.

Unsurprising, really, because what's not to love about Michelle Obama? She is smart, kind, funny, accomplished, a great dancer, a devoted wife and mother, and an all-around, genuinely good person.

She has remained dignified and strong in the face of rabid masses of so-called Americans who spent eight years and beyond insisting that she's a man disguised as a woman. She's endured non-stop racist memes and terrifying threats to her family. She has received far more than her fair share of cruelty, and always takes the high road. She's the one who coined, "When they go low, we go high," after all.

She came from humble beginnings and remains down to earth despite becoming a familiar face around the world. She's not much older than me, but I still want to be like Michelle Obama when I grow up.

Her memoir, Becoming, may end up being the best-selling memoir of all time, having already sold 10 million copies—a clear sign that people can't get enough Michelle, because there's no such thing as too much Michelle.

Don't like Michelle Obama? Don't care. Those of us who love her will fly our MO flags high and without apology, paying no mind to folks with cold, dead hearts who don't know a gem of a human being when they see one. There is nothing any hater can say or do to make us admire this undeniably admirable woman any less.

When it seems like the world has lost its mind—which is how it feels most days these days—I'm just going to keep coming back to this study as evidence that hope for humanity is not lost.

Here. Enjoy some real-life Michelle on Jimmy Kimmel. (GAH. WHY IS SHE SO CUTE AND AWESOME. I can't even handle it.)

Michelle & Barack Obama are Boring Now www.youtube.com

Most Shared
via EarthFix / Flickr

What will future generations never believe that we tolerated in 2019?

Dolphin and orca captivity, for sure. They'll probably shake their heads at how people died because they couldn't afford healthcare. And, they'll be completely mystified at the amount of food some people waste while others go starving.

According to Biological Diversity, "An estimated 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted every year, costing households, businesses and farms about $218 billion annually."

There are so many things wrong with this.

First of all it's a waste of money for the households who throw out good food. Second, it's a waste of all of the resources that went into growing the food, including the animals who gave their lives for the meal. Third, there's something very wrong with throwing out food when one in eight Americans struggle with hunger.

Supermarkets are just as guilty of this unnecessary waste as consumers. About 10% of all food waste are supermarket products thrown out before they've reached their expiration date.

Three years ago, France took big steps to combat food waste by making a law that bans grocery stores from throwing away edible food.According to the new ordinance, stores can be fined for up to $4,500 for each infraction.

Previously, the French threw out 7.1 million tons of food. Sixty-seven percent of which was tossed by consumers, 15% by restaurants, and 11% by grocery stores.

This has created a network of over 5,000 charities that accept the food from supermarkets and donate them to charity. The law also struck down agreements between supermarkets and manufacturers that prohibited the stores from donating food to charities.

"There was one food manufacturer that was not authorized to donate the sandwiches it made for a particular supermarket brand. But now, we get 30,000 sandwiches a month from them — sandwiches that used to be thrown away," Jacques Bailet, head of the French network of food banks known as Banques Alimentaires, told NPR.

It's expected that similar laws may spread through Europe, but people are a lot less confident at it happening in the United States. The USDA believes that the biggest barrier to such a program would be cost to the charities and or supermarkets.

"The logistics of getting safe, wholesome, edible food from anywhere to people that can use it is really difficult," the organization said according to Gizmodo. "If you're having to set up a really expensive system to recover marginal amounts of food, that's not good for anybody."

Plus, the idea may seem a little too "socialist" for the average American's appetite.

"The French version is quite socialist, but I would say in a great way because you're providing a way where they [supermarkets] have to do the beneficial things not only for the environment, but from an ethical standpoint of getting healthy food to those who need it and minimizing some of the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that come when food ends up in a landfill," Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland, told NPR.

However, just because something may be socialist doesn't mean it's wrong. The greater wrong is the insane waste of money, damage to the environment, and devastation caused by hunger that can easily be avoided.

Planet

The world is dark and full of terrors, but every once in a while it graces us with something to warm our icy-cold hearts. And that is what we have today, with a single dad who went viral on Twitter after his daughter posted the photos he sent her when trying to pick out and outfit for his date. You love to see it.




After seeing these heartwarming pics, people on Twitter started suggesting this adorable man date their moms. It was essentially a mom and date matchmaking frenzy.

Keep Reading Show less
Family