Monthly Archives: March 2013

Shea Community in Nigeria

I arrived back in the States March 9th after a crazy week of travel to the Global Shea Alliance (GSA) in Abuja, Nigeria. I learned a lot about the Shea industry while at the conference and met several contacts from the West African Trade Hub, and the GSA. Mostly, I met a lot of beautiful African women who work with cooperatives throughout Nigeria or in the shea industry in some fashion. After the conference I traveled north of Abuja to visit a small village where a shea producing cooperative is based. While there I found out that the women had traveled 6 hours, round trip, daily from the village to Abuja to attend training sessions at the GSA.

I was really impressed by the classes that were conducted by Shea Radiance and other attendees at the GSA. Shea Radiance is the company that hosted my attendance at the conference. I have been working with them for almost a year now. It was clear that they worked tirelessly to provide the women with a meaningful learning experience.

My last night in Nigeria I was tired, still jet legged, and unable to sleep. I laid awake and thought about Africa, and how rich the continent should be. It is a place filled with resources that are extracted in abundance. These resources are voraciously consumed in places outside of Africa. Resources such as coltan, diamonds, and oil. Coltan alone is used to manufacture billions of dollars worth of equipment that we in the Western world use daily, a.k.a, this laptop I am currently typing on, the iPhone sitting next to me, and in the satellites floating in space. What is utterly apparent, is that the trade of resources in Africa have not been mutually benefiting there place of origin and has been met throughout history with exploitation and conflict.

However, when thinking about the future, and the production of shea particularly, their remains a lot of hope for change. What makes shea unique from other resources is that the production of shea is traditionally considered women’s work. For centuries women have collected the nuts that grow on trees that can only be found in the Savannah. They cultivate the nut into butter, to use on their skin, and in food. Woman use the profits from shea to feed their children and pay for their education. Shea has become a crucial ingredient in cosmetics and other products around the world. Now more then ever their is focus on how to change industry standards and the ways of the past. Consumers are more aware of the importance of their choices and want to support companies that are socially and environmentally responsible.

There are no perfect solutions to any problem. But in a globalizing world issues regarding trade need to be addressed so the community does not become (or remain) disenfranchised, and marginalized. Many rural communities are deprived of knowledge and unaware of the value of their local resources. At the GSA in Abuja, hundreds of women traveled from remote villages across Nigeria, commuting hours daily to attend classes at the conference. These women are filled with a desire to learn, and acquire knowledge that will improve their lives. Their actions reflect an unrelenting hope for a better future. I just hope that we can be part of changing that future for the better.

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Portrait series and photos from cooperative below.

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Abuja Nigeria to the Global Shea Alliance

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(photo by Shea Radiance)

Tomorrow I am leaving to travel to Abuja Nigeria to attend the Global Shea Alliance.  I am attending the conference with Shea Radiance.  A company that produces natural hair and body care products made with shea butter.  I started working with Shea Radiance as a contract photographer and videographer  about 10 months ago, photographing products, events, and creating multimedia pieces.

Shea Radiance works closely with women’s shea producing cooperatives in Northern Nigeria. By sourcing shea from the cooperatives the company is helping to empower the local economy and lives of the women that work at the cooperatives.

When arriving in Abuja first we will attend the Global Shea Alliance conference for three days.   The focus on the conference is to enhance a sustainable and competitive Shea industry that is environmentally and socially responsible.  Shea Radiance is conducting a workshop at Global Shea to teach business owners from 17 west African countries how to produce body care products from locally sourced ingredients like shea. After the training, we will be heading to the cooperatives to a much more rural part of the country North of Abuja.

I spent the last several days deciding what gear I want to bring with me in my camera bag.  I spent an even longer period of time deciding which bag I wanted to carry all of my gear in.  For awhile now I have needed to purchase I new camera bag.  My gear had been carried around in different bags that weren’t so convenient to carry.  Another issue I had encountered on certain international flights is not being able to carry more then 17.5 Ibs in a carry on bag.  While in the Philippines last year I had this issue on several domestic flights and had to sweet talk every person I encountered each time the topic came up, “You will have to check your bag because it exceeds the weight limit.”  Clearly handing over lots of very expensive camera gear to be checked, tossed around on a baggage cart and sorted under the plane, isn’t a good option.  After looking online for several hours I decided to purchase the Think Tanks Shape Shifter backpack for several reasons, one being that it weights only 3.75 lbs. Another key reason being that I hate carrying large backpacks when traveling.  A smaller one allows you to travel more with ease.

I am excited to see how the Shape Shifter fares on this trip and even more excited to step foot in Africa for the first time!  Its a continent I have wanted to explore for a very long time.

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