Mars joins venture assisting Ghana’s women shea farmers
Mars, Incorporated, has joined with industry partner AAK and the US Agency for International Development (USAID/Ghana) in a 10-year project assisting women farmers in North Ghana with sustainable shea production, writes Neill Barston.
The key ingredient is used significantly by both the confectionery and bakery sectors, with the latest scheme, which is being carried out alongside the Presbyterian Agriculture Services NGO aims to benefit 13,000 agricultural workers.
Known as the Women in Shea initiative (WISH), the move has been developed to help create more economic opportunities for women farmers working within the sector.
It has set out to provide a range of support activities including providing the tools, training and support necessary to help the women of shea increase the quantity of collected nuts while reducing the burden of collection activity.
In addition, it hopes to boost awareness among local communities and practices for the conservation and improved natural resource management to preserve the shea parklands.
Victoria Mars, Member of the Mars Board of Directors, said: “We believe that our brands’ success must be aligned with that of our partners and communities.
“Since 2015, we’ve been taking action with the Livelihoods Funds through the Livelihoods Fund for Family Farming (L3F) to source sustainable vanilla from Madagascar and coconut from Mindanao island, Philippines. We are proud to now come together to launch a large-scale shea sourcing initiative in Ghana to bring benefits to women who live in a particularly fragile ecosystem.”
As Mars explained, the partnership is the latest action by the company in its commitment to address the barriers women face in workplaces, sourcing communities and the marketplace.
The WISH Initiative is jointly funded by Mars and its strategic partners, the Livelihoods Fund for Family Farming (L3F), AAK (combined $1.7M), and the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Fund through USAID/Ghana ($2M) to support women in shea-sourcing communities through three key pillars:
This includes ensuring a high-quality shea production in a context of strong market demand. The project will be implemented by local and experienced NGO Presbyterian Agriculture Services in East Gonja Municipal, in the Savannah Region of Northern Ghana, which falls into the shea belt.
Furthermore it aims to support women beneficiaries to identify, produce crops and create complementary sources of income to provide them with a sustainable income, beyond shea production.
Among its other goals is the promotion and preservation of shea parklands through natural resource management and awareness activities, to ensure the long-term conservation of shea trees within a particularly fragile ecosystem.
It also offers assistance with women’s farming activities during the dry season, with training on sustainable agricultural practices and seedlings to regenerate the soil, increase yields and food security.
Advisory, support and easier access to financial initiatives such as microfinance services and small credits to help women grow their businesses will also be made available. It also aims to help strengthen connections to local market actors to build a transparent supply chain with no intermediaries.
After year five, USAID and CARE will exit the project coalition. Mars, L3F and AAK will continue the Initiative with an additional investment of $1.89 million for years six through 10, reaching an additional 2,500 women (bringing the total outreach to 13,000).
This partnership compliments the broader Full Potential platform Mars launched in 2020, as well as the global partnership Mars has built in recent years with CARE focused on empowering people in cocoa sourcing communities.
Much of the company’s work on women’s social and economic empowerment in sourcing communities is implemented through the Cocoa for Generations strategy and Protecting Children Action Plan.
Mars is also reaching more than 4,500 women through self-help groups in mint sourcing communities in India through the Shubh Mint program and supports more than 800 women rice farmers in Thailand with expanded business skills and training through the Sustainable Rice Platform.
Maribel Narvaez Gallardo, Livelihoods Venture Lead Project & Partnerships: “Our experience has shown it takes strong commitments at every step of the value chain to build the foundations of sustainable sourcing. In Ghana we are bringing together a coalition of private and public actors to address challenges that no actor can solve alone: secure high-quality sourcing to answer our brand partners’ needs, create new economic opportunities for shea women, regenerate a fragile ecosystem of shea trees. This is the largest value chain project we are supporting through L3F as we aim to reach 13,000 women beneficiaries.”
Anne Mette Olesen, AAK’s Chief Strategy & Sustainability Officer, added: “WISH is a ground-breaking partnership of stakeholders in the shea industry, combining the knowledge and influence of both the public and private sector. The potential for positive, sustainable transformation is huge, especially in light of the holistic, long-term and practical approach being taken by all parties involved.”