Because it’s been a while since I wrote about it, I’m guessing you all might be wondering what is happening in the world of shea in my village and beyond…here’s a shea butter update!

My women’s association sold all of its butter at the local market for 1,000 CFA per kilo (that’s about USD $2).  In total, they made about 75,000 CFA (USD $150).  For their first year of production, I think this is a good place to be, but of course their goal is to both increase production and expand the organization in the coming years.

During their monthly meetings we are working through some kinks – one village has decided that they don’t want to participate this year – and attempting to shore up the operations of the organization itself.  This process includes working with the women to ensure they are keeping accurate records, developing a plan for growth in the future, and helping the women fulfill the roles they have been assigned within the association.

In February, the women decided to make the 73,000 CFA that they made from the shea butter sales, available to group members in credit – I thought this was a great idea!  Had each woman been given an equal share of the money made, they would have walked away with a little more than USD $1.  This small amount of money, unfortunately, would not give any one of them a leg-up in buying products for another business or investing in crops that they could resell at a later date to make a profit.  With this in mind, they decided to give larger sums of money to select members of the group (between USD $10 and USD $30) that would be beneficial to those women and would provide the money, plus a small amount of interest, back to the group as a whole.  I’m looking forward to seeing how this works, and helping the women continue it, if it is successful.

The rainy season is getting fairly close (June-September), so it will be time for the women to start collecting shea fruit soon.  I’m looking forward to participating in this part of the process this year.  I’m sure there will be entertaining photos of me carrying bowls of shea fruit on my head in the near future, haha!  Stay tuned…

On a much broader scale, I just returned from Accra, Ghana, where I participated in an annual shea conference, put on by the West Africa Trade HubShea 2011: Sustainable Solutions, brought together stakeholders from around the world, and at all levels of the shea value chain, to discuss the future of the shea industry, to exchange best practices and lessons learned, and to launch the Global Shea Alliance, which will serve as a unified voice for the shea industry.

As a Peace Corps volunteer, my role was two-fold.  Most importantly, I was at the conference to learn, to network and to think about ways Peace Corps and its volunteers can best assist the growth of the shea industry in Mali.  Never taking off my volunteer hat, though, I was also asked to help out with something that is quite familiar to me – communications.  Throughout the conference, I wrote summaries of the sessions for the Shea 2011 Web site.  In addition, I live blogged from the opening session, which featured remarks from the Vice President of Ghana and the United States Ambassador to Ghana.

The conference was exhausting, but certainly worth the trip.  I’m looking forward to bringing back information to Peace Corps Mali and sharing my experiences with the women in my association.

Although the conference certainly filled most of my days, I was able to venture out in Accra a bit.  Like Dakar, it seems that Accra is more developed than Bamako.  In addition to the development, it was also nice to see signs in English and talk to cab drivers in English.  I had to get used to not speaking in Bambara/French!

Among the highlights of the after-conference hours were Ryan’s, an Irish pub, Honeysuckle, an English pub and a great fair trade store, started by an RPCV from Ghana, called Global Mamas.

Check out my pictures from Ghana here.

I’m back in the States now!  I hope to see many of you and share more about my adventures in person during my visit.

Please wish me safe, and easy, travels (Ala ka sira numan ye)!