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< prev - next > Social and economic development discovering technologists (Printable PDF)
Gender and Technology Training Guidelines
Session 15 - Case Studies
10. Shea butter extraction in Ghana
Shea butter is widely used in Ghana as a traditional cooking oil, pomade for hair and
skin, treatment of boils, wounds and other skin diseases, for the manufacture of soap,
and fuel for lamps. It is exported as a substitute for cocoa butter in the
pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries. The collection of Shea fruits and their
processing into butter are exclusively a woman's job and one of the main sources of
income for women in Ghana. Women use variations of a traditional extraction
technology, which achieves a very high oil extraction rate. The process is nevertheless
time consuming and labour intensive.
In the process of production, kneading is the most crucial step in determining the
quality of the final product. Its successful execution depends on the recognition of
changes in appearance, colour, viscosity and temperature of the kneaded mass,
possible only for a well-trained and experienced eye to see.
There were various attempts to modify the method of production. The first was the
use of the corn mill for the grinding of roasted Shea nut granules. This was a
modification introduced and adapted by the women. There were other changes
suggested, but without any consultation of the women. The Mali oil extractor, which
was introduced by the Nation Council of Women in Development, was one of them.
This was abandoned after a few trials, as it did not extract as much oil as the
traditional method and the quality was poor as well. Later a machine designed by
local engineers was introduced. This machine, though better than the imported Mali
oil extractor, didn't satisfy the women.
Finally the engineers launched a new attempt but, this time listening to the ideas of
the women Shea butter producers. Initial trials with the women showed that the
traditional method had an efficiency of around 83% that compared favourably with
the current industrial technology. Therefore they decided that improvements were
only needed to make the process less time and energy consuming for women.
One of the things the engineer was asked to design was a more efficient baffle-
impeller arrangement in the kneader along the guidelines provided by the women. The
best result obtained after 9 trials gave an extraction rate slightly lower than the
manual process, but cut down working time by about 66%. There are still
shortcomings, but now that there is a relationship established between the designers
and the women it is expected that these failures too will be solved in the future.
Session 17 - Case Studies - Use the same material provided for Session 15