Lifting people out of poverty by investing in sustainable business

Desertification and land degradation are not new to the fragile Sahel ecosystem, a semi-arid strip of land south of the Sahara Desert. Climate change, which is expected to deeply modify the region’s climate, including by abruptly increasing rainfall, adds another layer of complexity to the daily lives of the people living in the Sahel.

Environmentally-friendly economic growth is one strategy for overcoming these challenges, and local entrepreneurs are increasingly looking towards sustainable industries to improve their livelihoods.

Shea butter, locally known as karité, is a key ingredient in many moisturizing creams. It is extracted from the nuts of the shea tree which grows indigenously in the Sahel and is a primary source of employment and income for millions of people, especially women. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimates that, on average, three million African women benefit directly or indirectly from shea butter production.

Burkina Faso is one of the top shea nut-producing countries, and export of shea products represents a major source of revenue.

Felicite Yameogo, who lives in Burkina Faso, is the director of New Karikis International and one of the women entrepreneurs who have benefited from this business, which she says is crucial for empowering women in the region. “With this project, thousands of women are being lifted out of poverty,” says Yameogo.

New Karikis International, one of the beneficiaries of the SWITCH Africa Green project, is a small company that deals with the production and export of shea nuts, organic shea butter and shea butter cosmetics. The company also offers training and advice to farmers and companies in the industry.

She spoke to UN Environment at the SWITCH Africa Green Regional Forum, held recently in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, about her experience transitioning to a green business. “Access to finance and market is still challenging for our small businesses. It is much easier sometimes to export abroad than to our regional market,” says Yameogo. “UN Environment and the European Union, through Switch Africa Green project, are helping us to network with banks, donors and other players who can support us to grow our business in a more sustainable way.”

Through initiatives such as Switch Africa Green, African women have been able to organize themselves in cooperatives to harvest, produce and export shea products. After a successful startup, many female entrepreneurs are now looking to expand their business to other countries in the region and beyond.

SWITCH Africa Green Programme, a project funded by the European Union in partnership with UN Environment, supports African countries in their transition to a green economy, and promotes sustainable consumption and production practices. So far, the project has helped thousands of small and medium enterprises in Africa to start sustainable businesses and lift themselves and their communities out of poverty.

For more information, please contact: Mohamed Atani – Head of Communication and Outreach, UN Environment, Africa Office – Tel. +254727531253