Sommalife — Gladiators of Shea Conservation
With every swing of an axe, every jarring sound of a chainsaw machine manned by indifferent lumberjacks, a tree dies — the forests shrink and so does the lifespan of the planet. Although the reduction of forests is bound to happen at the expense of industrialization and urbanization, the unchecked deforestation spells doom for the planet. Trees drop every day so that structures can be built and furniture can fill our banquet halls for mankind to dine on the carcasses of their life givers — the death of the last man follows that of the last tree. Mankind is in the amphitheater of life, wielding an axe that will inevitably destroy themselves — the only shield in the way are the frontrunners of conservation. Our efforts to protect the planet should far exceed the activities that destroy it for posterity’s sake.
Sommalife, a young Ghanaian startup has joined the battle for conservation in northern Ghana with a focus on shea trees. Despite the popularity of shea butter products neatly branded and decorating the counters of supermarkets and cosmetic shops, shea trees have come under a threat of extinction. The Vitellaria paradoxa, popularly known as shea tree, has caught the attention of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and has been listed as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN red list. Since they mostly grow in a wild state, shea trees are not properly mapped and protected which has given rise to some disturbing trends in the Northern regions of Ghana. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found out that people have been cutting down the trees and using them for charcoal. About 80% of the charcoal produced in the North comes from shea trees which is alarming and a threat to the preservation of shea trees and their immense value to the country. With the long lifespan of the shea tree, it is exponentially more valuable alive and producing nuts than being burnt for charcoal and used as fuel.
However, throughout the Northern regions of Ghana, people cut shea trees to make charcoal, a quick source of income to pay for immediate expenses such as school fees, hospital bills, a debt or perhaps to put food on their table. The charcoal of cut shea trees is replacing the sustainable production of butter and causing great harm to the environment.
Whether as shea nut collectors or shea butter producers, the shea tree is a source of livelihood for many people, especially women in the Northern parts of Ghana. Ghana is one of the top 5 producers of shea nuts in the world and the only African country in the top 10 in the Global Shea Nut Market with $18.37 million in export value in 2020 despite the pandemic. The threat to this species is a threat not only to the livelihoods of the people in the Northern parts of Ghana but to the economy of Ghana.
Sommalife, with a mission to empower rural women in the Upper West region and advance efforts in conservation, piloted successfully in 10 communities in the Wa West District. The Sommalife team has supported these 10 communities to set up shea conservation parklands. These communities include Motigu, Sogla, Paala, Bisikan and Losse. The pilot involved engaging community leaders and members to appreciate the impact of the loss of shea trees. They were taught to take immediate and sustainable actions, including the demarcation and protection of shea parklands in each of the communities. Some of the community members were trained in parkland management in order to ensure the sustainability of the project.
The Sommalife team, fully conscious of the environmental and economic effects of cutting down shea trees has decided to expand the shea parkland conservation to 25 communities in order to protect a total of 10,000 shea trees and spread the message of conservation throughout these communities. The team has already nursed 600 shea seedlings and is seeking to increase that number to 6000 by close of the year. Sommalife’s formidable team is fully armored and battle ready to stand as gladiators of conservation in order to protect the environment and preserve the economic sustainability of the people in northern Ghana, starting from the Upper West region. The fight for conservation has been an uphill battle but one that is definitely worth fighting.