Today, we are privileged to have the Founder of Ajike Shea Centre Ghana, Ajike Adebimpe, grace Our Person of the Week column.
I was quickly drawn to her when I saw how passionate she is about her work. Ajike is a successful entrepreneur in the shea butter industry but notwithstanding her accomplishments and glowing reviews, she still has an admirable quality that not many people possess – humility!
She’s one of the busiest woman I’ve ever come across but in her busy schedule, she wiggled out some time to give us this exclusive interview.
We talked about everything from the shea industry, the hard truth about the shea industry which no one ever talks about and also how she feels about female entrepreneurs.
“Chioma I must admit this had to be my toughest exams since leaving the Law School” Ajike exclaimed just as we were about to conclude the interview.
Good morning Ajike and welcome to www.chiomaokoyeakpawusi.com. Please tell us about yourself.
“My name is Ajike Adebimpe but before the Shea centre my friends knew me as Feyi. Only my very close friends know my traditional name which is Ajike. I studied law at the Lagos State University and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2006.”
You are the CEO of Ajike Shea Centre “where handcrafted, raw and unrefined shea butter” is produced. What does this entail?
“I like to call myself a founder rather than a CEO. As the founder of Ajike Shea Centre, I not only have to create jobs for over 200 women, I also have to look for customers to buy the Shea that we produce so that our Shea Queens can always get work to do and make some money for themselves and their families. I have to make sure that everything goes smoothly at the Centre and I also have to help our Shea Queens start some other small businesses by the side so that they have other source of income and after that, I have to look for customers to buy the products they produce from these other businesses. For example some of our Shea Queens now produce their own handmade soaps which they sell across the globe and every profit they make from their sales is solely for these shea queens. So a lot goes into being the founder of Ajike Shea Centre.”
Ghana is recorded as the 3rd largest producer of shea in the world and your shea centre is located in Ghana, how do you deal with the competition?
“Yes Ghana is regarded as one of the countries that produces Shea butter because of the procedures of production. This is not taking anything away from other Shea Producers in other parts of Africa as Shea production is generally not an easy task. The only thing that sets Ajike Shea Centre apart from other producers is our attention to detail. We pay attention to every step of our production to produce the highest premium quality Shea from start to finish. This is what sets us apart from other producers not only in Ghana but in Africa as a whole.”
What made you go into Shea Butter business considering the tedious nature of producing shea nuts which involves de-husking, frying, milling, etc. Why did you choose this path?
“I always love to share my story on how I found myself in the Shea Industry. Before Ajike Shea Centre, I never heard nor knew anything about Shea production or business as I never liked Shea butter because of the natural smell. But I fell in love with Shea butter when I started selling Natural hair products (Ultra Black Hair UBH) an American Black Hair product after I resigned from the corporate world in december of 2014 to follow my dream as an entrepreneur. There is the need to seal the moisture in the hair with an oil-based product after applying moisturizer on the hair and shea butter is the No. 1 product on everyone’s lips. I needed Shea to sell with my UBH product so I contacted a missionary friend of mine who was serving in Northern Ghana as I was in Accra. This was how I started buying Shea butter from just one woman (Shea Queen Sanatu) solely for my hair product business. One day, I wanted to buy some Shea but she said she didn’t have because she didn’t have the money to buy shea nuts from the market. From that moment, I would send money to her to buy more than enough shea nuts, from which I will buy the little shea I needed and she would sell the rest in the market. When I needed more shea, she’d send some to me until I have bought shea butter worth the money I gave to her to buy the nuts. Then after some time, I gave her some money to produce shea and I in turn buy the Shea and she sells the rest of the shea at the market. We continued like this until other women in the village heard about it and asked if I could do same with them. Because I only needed the Shea for my business, I told the other women I couldn’t do what I was doing with Shea Queen Sanatu with them because that would be too much shea for me. The women persisted and said that some companies come to the nearby village to buy all of their shea and then sell it to other companies. They said I should buy their shea so that they can get their money at once because when they sell at the market they dont get their money immediately as their buyers pay up to 3 weeks later and they knew I was giving Shea Queen Sanatu money to produce instead of buying in credit. I visited them after a 14hrs drive from Accra and when I saw their situation, the tedious shea butter production processes and the very little profit these women made, I knew I had to do something!
I knew I could do something if we worked together and their situations will change.
When I went back to Accra, I started doing my research about who the women said was buying the shea butter produced by women in the nearby village. Then I realised the shea market, players and how money changed hands and how little the women are paid for the Shea butter they produce that they can hardly survive on the amazing product only them have the skills to produce! This was how I founded the Ajike Shea Centre where women produce shea butter and they don´t spend a dime to produce because the centre provides everything they need to produce and they get paid adequately to compensate them for their hard work, skills and tradition.”
What are the challenges you face in shea butter production and how do you get shea nuts?
“One of the challenges we have at the Ajike Shea centre is the availability of water. Water is highly needed to produce shea butter so we have been buying tankers of water daily because water couldn’t be reached when we tried to drill a borehole. The only solution is for us to lay pipes from the villages that have access to clean water which we can not afford. We purchase our shea nuts from the women who have picked and processed the nuts and when they do not have any to sell especially if it’s not harvest season we buy from the open market.”
Let’s talk about the processes involved in producing shea butter. Is it labour intensive? What will you like the world to know about shea butter production?
“I love this question. The world needs to know the processes of Shea production so that they can pay attention to where their Shea butter comes from and make sure that the women who produced their shea have been well paid. It is very easy to take advantage of these women who produce shea butter because they live in very remote villages and have no access to international market nor know how much their shea is worth. They are poor and would accept whatever is paid to them for their shea and some times they make losses after production when the shea nut is not having enough oil. They hand pick shea nuts in the wild sometimes risking snake bites, they bend over for several hours, carry about 20kg shea nuts on their head and walk for about 45mins back to their hones and some even walk more than an hour by foot carrying the very heavy bowls of fresh shea nuts. Then, they boil the shea nuts, sun dry it, crack the shells off, sun dry the nuts again, crush, roast, knead by hand to extract oil from the shea nuts, boil the oil, stir by hand until it thickens!! They need to process over 100kg shea nuts to produce a 25kg shea butter. It’s a lot of physical hard work to produce shea butter!”
Do you get any form of support from the government or any organisation?
“We have not received any financial support from any government or organizations yet. We have, however, received support from our representatives and partners (these are people who buy and sell our shea). Through their purchase of our shea butter, we have been able to change the lives of our shea queens, their families and villages as a whole. We have been able to provide learning materials to kids in the nursery school in our village. We have also been able to set up 7 of our shea queens in shea butter handmade soap production, another 5 shea queens in shea butter body healing balm production and about 20 women will soon start their livestock rearing business. All of these wouldn’t be possible without the support of everyone buying our Shea butter. This is why we refer to them as our partners. The centre is also making plans to give the kids in the nursery school free education, this we will do with the support of our partners. Therefore, we welcome any kind of support.”
Shea butter industry is a female dominated industry. How does this make you feel? Do you think women are well represented at the top?
“Sure, it feel good that Shea Production is a female dominated business but when we compare the ratio of men at the top with the number of women, I will say it could be better. I see things changing in the future.”
Do you export shea butter outside Ghana?
“Yes we export our Shea butter across the globe.”
What are the uses of shea butter?
“Shea butter is such an amazing nature’s gift that people know very little about. Shea butter is the No. 1 healing seed oil in the world and its edible fat is awesome for cooking. 90% of shea butter produced annually is used by the chocolate industry as a cocoa substitute, pharmaceutical companies use it in the production of ointments, beauty companies use it in their body product, hair products, soaps because it is an excellent moisturizer that heals most skin issues.”
How can you be reached?
“I can be reached via email firstname.lastname@example.org, Whatsapp and calls on +233543192072.
You can also check out our website: www.ajikesheacentre.com.”
Any word for us at www.chiomaschmitz.com?
“Thanks once again for this opportunity to talk about Women Shea Producers and for sharing my story.”
Photo credits: www.ajikesheacentre.com