Co-development project

to empower women in West Africa

Joint sourcing initiative empowers women in shea

In this co-development opportunity, AAK joined forces with Mars and several leading NGOs to empower women in West Africa. The ten-year partnership, called the Women in Shea (WISH) initiative, aims to bring economic and social benefits to 13,000 women in northern Ghana, preserve the wild-growing shea trees, and meet the growing market demand for high-quality shea kernels.

In today’s world, sustainability is high on everyone’s agenda. This is no different for AAK’s customers and certainly not Mars Incorporated, a global leader within the chocolate and confectionery industry. One of Mars’ foundations within sustainability is the Full Potential platform, launched in 2020. The focus of the platform is to take action on gender equality through various initiatives, where one main area is to improve women’s social and economic empowerment. 

With Mars already having programs within cocoa and vanilla, it was now time to initiate one within shea. Shea is not only an important raw material for Mars but this was also a great opportunity to make a difference for thousands of women within the shea supply chain.

The WISH initiative builds on AAK’s direct shea sourcing program Kolo Nafaso. The partnership has three core objectives. The first one is to help women to a higher income by improving the efficiency and quality of the shea harvest. Secondly, the project will equip the women so that they can produce other crops that can provide an additional source of income. The third goal is to raise awareness of natural resource management to ensure the long-term conservation of shea trees in a region with a fragile ecosystem.

Strategic alignment  

AAK’s primary role in WISH is to work with women from more than 150 communities in East Gonja in northern Ghana to ensure a sustainable, high-quality shea kernel supply. Mars has made a commitment to purchase, from AAK, its requirements of cocoa butter equivalents based on shea kernels sourced through the project.

“This co-development opportunity took shape after Mars recognized the strategic alignment between our Kolo Nafaso program and its own global ‘Sustainable in a Generation’ plan”, says Adriano Barrichello, Strategic Account Manager at AAK. 

The partnership has become a reality after a few years of conversations between the partners involved, including local multi-functional resources in West Africa, sourcing and trading departments, sustainability functions, and commercial teams.

Laura Schlebes, Sustainable Multi-Oil Manager at AAK, expects this combined know-how to create value beyond the project goals.

“Drawing on the experience and knowledge of the project partners, we have an opportunity to further explore and test which interventions work best within the Kolo Nafaso context”, she says. “This is why we believe that, in addition to making a positive impact on the livelihoods of 13,000 women in East Gonja, the project could help make Kolo Nafaso even better in the future.”

Long-term sustainability 

Sustainability will be a core focus for the chocolate and confectionery market going forward – a key driver that we will continue to support and make happen together with our customers. Kolo Nafaso is not a niche business, it is a full-scale sustainable supply chain which also supports volumes required by the mainstream brands of our customers. The program has been running since 2009 and includes more than 353,000 women. It is fully integrated and founded on true direct trade. 

Kolo Nafaso is lived and breathed by AAK’s extension officers who all work closely with relatively small groups of women ranging from 15–250 members. This differs from larger cooperatives as it maintains the element of daily exchange and builds strong relationships between our extension officers and the women enrolled. In short, we know the women in our program personally and they know us.

For Mars, this co-development partnership enables them to source responsibly and sustainably – thereby strengthening their brand position.