Women's Collective Action in the Shea Sector in Mali | Cooperative

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The shea sector in Mali is fertile ground for women
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  Summary The shea sector in Mali is fertile ground for women’s collective action (WCA). Shea production, processing and marketing are almost entirely female-dominated activities, and, in the four villages studied for the WCA research, the shea sector has always been exclusively female. Furthermore, community involvement and different forms of collective action (CA) and solidarity are an age-old tradition in Koutiala cercle 1  in Mali, where women have long been accustomed to working together to undertake a host of group activities, helped by recent government policies that support women’s engagement in CA groups. Since the late 1990s, formally recognized associations and cooperatives have emerged out of pre-existing forms of community involvement in the area. NGOs and government Women’s collective action in the shea sector in Mali Transformational change for women and their communities Improving gender relations throughwomen’s collective action departments have taken advantage of international demand for a higher quality shea product to provide support to cooperatives for improvements to production and marketing techniques, as well as group capacity and sustainability. In the most successful WCA groups studied, these factors, along with good internal governance, strong leadership, and support from men and community authorities, have enabled the cooperatives to mature to a point where they can facilitate transformational change in women’s lives. Indeed, the ndings from Mali show that in the right conditions, the active participation of women in CA can empower individual women, thereby augmenting their decision-making power and inuence within both the household and the community, contributing to lasting changes in gender relations. 1 February 2013  Figure 1: Map of Koutiala cercle,  Sikasso region, Mali Background Mali has one of the largest areas of shea trees in the ‘shea belt’ of western and central Africa. Shea resources in the country may amount to as many as 408.6 million trees, and national production is approximately 80,000 tonnes per year, compared to an estimated annual global production of between 610,000 and 650,000 tonnes. 2  Shea producers in Mali have tended to sell shea nuts either raw or processed as butter. Over the last 20 years, opportunities to sell to overseas markets and to create added-value have led to the production of improved butter, which sells for a higher price than the traditional product. Traditionally, WCA groups were only involved in the process of extracting the butter, but, as part of these innovations in the production and marketing of shea, groups are now involved in the purchase of the kernels, the extraction and preservation of the butter, and the handling and sale of the nal product. The WCA research was carried out in Koutiala cercle  in Sikasso, a region in the south-east of the country near the border with Burkina Faso (see Figure 1). Environmental conditions in this area are highly favourable for the growth of shea trees, and shea butter production is a well-established activity. The key actors intervening in the sector in Koutiala are NGO lnter-Coopération Suisse and PAFA (Agricultural Sector Support Project), which is funded by CIDA (the Canadian International Development Agency). There are also two very active women’s unions: COFERSA (Convergence of Rural Women for Food Sovereignty) and UFROAT (Union of Rural Women from West Africa and Chad). Currently, 42 women’s cooperatives are active in the shea sector in Koutiala. The 27 groups surveyed during the WCA research consist almost entirely of women (96 per cent on average), while all four of the groups studied in-depth are women-dominated, with one or two men performing specic tasks. 3  Three are formal cooperatives, while Bènkadi women’s association is an informal association in the process of registering as a cooperative (see Table 1 for more information). The four groups are at different levels of development, with Uyèlô cooperative in Kaniko outstripping the other groups in terms of individual and collective performance, quality and quantity of product, and engagement with the market; followed by Jigisèmè cooperative of women in N’Gountjina, Jèkadi cooperative of Sanogola women in Molobala, and Bènkadi women’s association in Koumbiri. This pattern was likewise borne out in terms of levels of empowerment and improved gender relations in the household and community. TomboctouKidalGaoMoptiSéguoSikassoKoulikoroBamakoKayes Koutiala cercle 2 Members of Uyèlô cooperative. Photo: Edmond Dembele  CountryMali RegionSikassoDistrictKoutiala cercle SectorSheaExisting types of WCAFormal registered cooperatives; umbrella organizations and unions; savings and credit groups; informal associations Uyèlô cooperative Year begunRooted in a series of CA groups, 1978–2004. Established as an association in 2004, registered as a cooperative in 2009TypeFormal cooperativeLocationKaniko village. Rural settingMembership157 womenProductionCollective production of improved shea productsMarketingCollective marketing of improved shea productsShea productsImproved shea butter, cream, laundry soap, toilet soap Jigisèmè cooperative of women Year begunBegan as a savings and credit group in 1997, registered as a cooperative in 2010TypeFormal cooperativeLocationN’Gountjina village. Rural settingMembership105 women, 2 menProductionIndividual production of traditional shea butter, collective production of improved shea butter MarketingCollective marketing of traditional and improved shea butter Shea productsTraditional and improved shea butter  Jèkadi cooperative of Sanogola women Year begunRooted in traditional WCA groups TypeFormal cooperativeLocationMolobala village. Rural settingMembership58 womenProductionIndividual production of traditional shea butter, collective production of soapMarketingCollective soap marketingShea productsSpecializes in making soap from traditional shea butter bought from members or externally Bènkadi women’s association Year begunRooted in a long history of WCA from before Mali gained independence in 1960TypeInformal association, in the process of registering as a formal cooperativeLocationKoumbiri village. Rural settingMembership60 women, 1 manProductionIndividual production of traditional shea butter MarketingIndividual, but plan to market traditional shea butter collectivelyShea productsShea nuts, traditional shea butter  Table 1: WCA groups studied 3  Transformational change at the personal, household and community level Maminè Sanogo, the Secretary General of Uyèlô in Kaniko (see p.8), explains that “Today, every woman from the cooperative who is involved in shea butter production says that she derives signicant revenues from it”.  Women in the CA groups surveyed earn approximately $12 per year more from traditional butter sales than corresponding producers who are not members. Along with the sales of improved shea butter, this means earnings from shea products of 81 per cent more than women not in groups, translating to an increase in prot of $20 per year. The transfer of improved techniques in shea butter production, processing and marketing to WCA members’ other income-generating activities can mean that these are also more remunerative. In the most mature cooperatives, Uyèlô and Jigisème, the entrepreneurial skills acquired through engagement in WCA around shea butter now inform women’s activities in various domains. Linked to these increases in economic benets, WCA members experience increased levels of empowerment in some key decision-making areas. However, this increase in empowerment is also associated with benets of group membership other than income. These include: improved self-condence through group participation and expansion of social networks; enhanced decision-making ability due to exposure to new ideas and increased knowledge; increased mobility through attending group meetings; the acquisition of new skills, which can be transferred to household management; and increased access to credit. Women from Uyèlô, for example, report feeling a greater sense of autonomy and responsibility as a result of their engagement in WCA, and now have the condence to advise each other on household management. Maminè Sanogo also reports that women’s self-condence and leadership skills have improved considerably since joining the cooperative. Overall, across the 27 groups surveyed, women members are signicantly more empowered than non-members in terms of decision-making power over agricultural incomes, use of credit and freedom of movement (see Figure 2).These changes, along with women’s increased ability to contribute to household costs, have positively inuenced relations between husbands and wives, such that women in these groups now have more say within the household. The President of the cotton producers’ cooperative in N’Gountjina explains that the men in the village now believe that “Women are an invaluable help to men when it comes to household management. So the woman should always be consulted on important decisions relating to the survival and future of the family”  . In Kaniko and Molobala, women members report that the timings of children’s weddings are no longer set by men without informing the mothers, as used to be the case, and women now contribute towards their daughters’ trousseaus. In the three most successful cooperatives studied in-depth, WCA members report that communication and respect between husbands and wives has improved signicantly, while in Kaniko, joint decision-making is now the norm rather than the exception. For the WCA groups in Kaniko and N’Gountjina, these factors, along with the success and increasing visibility of the women’s cooperatives, have also contributed to the transformation of gender relations at the community level. Male community members and authorities in these villages have an improved and extremely positive perception of women, and now regularly invite WCA members to consultations on community development. This improvement is also reected in the support which they have given to the women’s cooperatives in both villages, outlined in more detail below. In Kaniko, the village chief has supported women to such an extent that other men refer to him as ‘the Women’s Village Chief’, while the village chief in N’Gountjina explains that “Women are capable of undertaking the same activities as men and that is why I am working with the women’s cooperative and encouraging it in its activities”  . WCA groups likewise contribute to community development, as in Kaniko where Uyèlô has given money to the construction of the village school. This improvement in gender relations can also bring about greater levels of social cohesion: in Kaniko, the formation of Uyèlô has helped bring harmony to the community, which had been experiencing a period of social tension following the political changes in the country in the early 1990s. A positive cooperative and policy environment  An environment favourable to women’s participation in both the shea sector and in CA helped women to develop groups which enabled their empowerment. The long-standing 4 0%10%20%30%40%50%60%70%80%90%100%    I  n  p  u   t  s   i  n   t  o   d  e  c   i  s   i  o  n  s  o  n  p  r  o   d  u  c   t   i  o  n   J  o   i  n   t  o  w  n  e  r  s   h   i  p  o   f  a  g  r   i  c  u   l   t  u  r  a   l  a  s  s  e   t  s   C  o  n   t  r  o   l  o  v  e  r   d  e  c   i  s   i  o  n  s  o  n  u  s  e  o   f  a  g  r   i  c  u   l   t  u  r  a   l   i  n  c  o  m  e   R   i  g   h   t  s  o  v  e  r  a  g  r   i  c  u   l   t  u  r  a   l  a  s  s  e   t  s   A  c  c  e  s  s   t  o  c  r  e   d   i   t   C  o  n   t  r  o   l  o  v  e  r  u  s  e  o   f   i  n  c  o  m  e   f  o  r   h  o  u  s  e   h  o   l   d  e  x  p  e  n   d   i   t  u  r  e   F  r  e  e   d  o  m   o   f  m  o  v  e  m  e  n   t   F  r  e  e   d  o  m    t  o  a   t   t  e  n   d  g  r  o  u  p  m  e  e   t   i  n  g  s Members Non-Members Figures on the Y axis equate to the share of women reaching ‘adequacy’ on that indicator. For more information on the methodology used, visit http://womenscollectiveaction.com/Phase+III Figure 2: Adequacy in eight dimensions of empowerment for members and non-members in 27 women’s shea butter cooperatives in Koutiala, Mali.
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