The Songtaaba Women’s Group


In the Sahelian countries, the semi-arid regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, severe deforestation and desertification are taking a great toll in loss of natural resources, livelihoods and health, and there are few socially acceptable activities where women can earn their own money.

 Burkina-be: People with a Future

 Women, men and children in Burkina Faso are working together to curb desertification, reforest the land, increase education and economic opportunities for girls and women, and reduce population growth. People mobilizing for change are bringing about a better way of life. Burkina-be: People with a Future is One Second Before Sunrise: Program IV with Host and English Narrator Lynn Redgrave and Host and French Narrator Rasmane Raso Ouedraogo. This Horizon International television program was produced for and funded by UNFPA. This program was produced for presentation at the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, China - September 1995: Action for Equality, Development and Peace.Partial production credits: Executive Producer, Producer, Director Janine Selendy. Co-Director Rasmane Raso Ouedraogo, Associate Director Béla Selendy, Videographer Anders Carlsson, Sound Engineer Klas Karlsson, Co-editors Janine Selendy and Roland Carter. Additional production credits are at the end of the program.



Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

Problem Overview:

Lack of socially acceptable remunerative activities for women in Sub-Saharan Africa

In the Sahelian countries, the semi-arid regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, severe deforestation and desertification are taking a great toll in loss of natural resources, livelihoods and health, and there are few socially acceptable activities where women can earn their own money. The manual extraction of karite (shea) butter is one of the few. Until recently, however, women had no control over how the product was actually marketed; they were limited to selling locally the small quantities they made individually or as part of a small group of individuals.

Burkina Faso is a West African land-locked country in which women constitute 52% of the population of approximately 10 million inhabitants. Burkina Faso is ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world, and one in which more women than men live in poverty.




The Songtaaba Women’s Group has been transforming one of the few economic assets in Sahelian Africa controlled by women — karite butter — from a less-than-subsistence, informal-sector activity into a formalized and systematized cottage industry capable of generating not only dramatically increased incomes, but also new jobs, new skills and opportunities, and the organizational training for further expansion of women into the formal economic activities. The Songtaaba Women’s Group is headed by its founder, Marcelline Ouédraogo. (The name Songtaaba, in the Moore language, means "to help one another.")

Songtaaba researches business partners for the sale of its karite butter. It has a production capacity of 60 ton a month of the best quality of karite produced by 350 productives setting up in six provinces of Burkina Faso.

Burkina Faso has a great potential of producing and transforming karite nuts for a number of uses. In fact, karite nut is its third most highly exported agricultural produce. Traditionally, the manual transformation of the karite seed into butter is exclusively a feminine activity in Burkina Faso and, in general, in the rest of West Africa. The production sector of karite butter, in spite of the number of women involved, remains under-exploited with regard to its potential in the national and export markets.


In the West African region, karite butter is used as foodstuff; it is also used for making bathing soap, laundry soap and other diverse products. In the US, Europe and Japan, karite butter is imported for its use in making chocolate and baking, for pharmaceutical products, and for cosmetics.

Marcelline Ouédraogo brought "assembly line" scale economics to bear on karite production when she created her first 30 woman cooperative in 1990. She based this undertaking on existing women’s cooperative organizations which she then built into an enterprise that is democratic and cooperative — one that is as concerned with raising the status of women as it is with generating profits. In the venture, individual participants were no longer responsible for all steps of the production process. Instead, each woman was assigned to work on a specific stage — cultivation of the karite, preparation of the raw material for extraction, oil extraction, further processing of the karite butter, depending on its anticipated end use, and packaging. In addition, Marcelline Ouédraogo and the members of the Songtaaba cooperative began marketing the product to volume buyers.

As a result of the currency devaluation in 1994, there were major changes in national and sub-regional consumption patterns. Local products became more sought after due to price increases on products traditionally imported from Europe.

By 1996 the cooperative had identified a market for karite butter of approximately five hundred tons with a market value of US $410,000.

Now, women workers are paid according to the task and their availability. They are given flexible working hours even when they are organized into teams. For the first time, through the association, women members are able to gain access to a line of credit. The association also established a special fund to help when members experience particular difficulties such as a death in the family, medical emergencies or the need for help with school fees.

In order to reduce the tasks of women producers, karite products are produced using a semi-industrial machine in urban areas, and with manual presses in rural areas.

Cashflow was typically a major problem that disabled women’s activities. Songtaaba managed to obtain a loan from a credit union to undergo each collection campaign.

As far as Cooperative’s marketing is concerned, two kiosks were made to display and to sell its products. These dispays are also aimed at increasing Songtaaba’s visibility and publicity in Ouagadougou, the capital city. For some clients, products are delivered at the workplace or at home and payments of such orders are collected at the end of each month.

To guarantee the women’s income, they take turns doing the work and are paid on a task-basis. Songtaaba’s activities are spreading throughout the country and women’s groups have been invited by their counterparts in neighboring countries to train them to handle the whole process.

Two thousand women have been trained throughout the Burkina Faso to treat, collect and transform the karite butter and related products.

Efforts to fight against desertification, by prohibiting abusive wood-cutting are spurred on by karite use. The karite tree, whose economic value is increasingly well-recognized, is now often protected by landowners and farmers. In areas where the severe desertification process starts, karite trees are particularly well protected. Protection of the karite tree also helps sensitize people to other ways to reduce deforestation, such as by building improved wood-burning stoves and encouraging artisans to become involved with their fabrication.

Songtaaba’s organizational structure includes a Permanent Secretariat, a General Assembly, a Board of Directors, and management committees. The secretariat is composed of a sociologist in charge of program/project implementation, four saleswomen, a secretary, a driver and a security person. Their monthly salaries are paid from Songtaaba’s funds. The General Assembly has the higher management decision-making role and is comprised of women producers. Local branches are composed of grassroots village groups that are members of the General Assembly. The Board of Directors is the executive body of the organization. Songtaaba also includes management committees. These positions are held by volunteers who are not remunerated.

In keeping with the Platform of Action of the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women, Songtaaba emphasizes the participation of women in economic activities to improve their social conditions and their educational level, to reduce their fertility rate, to increase their life span, and to reduce poverty. To further these objectives, Songtaaba gives training in management, in literacy, in family planning, and in evaluation follow-ups, which complement income-generating activities.

Regarding organizational capacity-building and advocacy efforts, Songtaaba puts an emphasis on fighting for the interests of women producers and — more generally — for all actors involved in the karite business. Therefore, it collaborates with a businessperson and has initiated a structure named the National Consultation Framework for the Promotion of the Karite Channel (CNC/Karite Channel). The objective of the CNC is to research and propose to authorities appropriate solutions to improve the productivity of the karite and its contribution to national economic growth. The Network is composed of representatives of leagues of inter-professional associations, of other organizations of karite producers, collectors, and transformers. There are also representatives of micro-enterprises, of development projects, and of technical services operating in the karite sector.


The project continues to be successfully underway. The impact of Songtaaba’s initiative is multiplying and growing, profiting all who participate or operate in the Karite Network (women and men) and who benefit from all positive repercussions.

Songtaaba is now seeking to create six micro-enterprises of production of karite butter and of other products, such as the soumbala, peanut butter, dry and fresh vegetables and fruits, and karite butter soap.

Other activities undertaken are to build the capacities of Songtaaba’s members: Installation of purification systems for handling used waters from productions and creation of a sewing center for twenty underprivileged girls.

Building on her experience with Songtaaba, Marcelline Ouédraogo organized the Collective of Producer Associations of Karite Butter and Other Products, which now has 350 women members in five provinces. The associations, in turn, work cooperatively; for example, some of them focus exclusively on supplying Songtaaba with raw material for processing.

Under Songtaaba’s organizational structure and Marcelline Ouédraogo’s initiative, she represents the association in the Orientation Committee of the Ouagadougou-based Karite Project (Projet Filiere Karite) that has been set up by a Canadian agency.

Songtaaba has recently welcomed its first Malian Cooperative to the Collective of Producer Associations of Karite Butter and Other Products.

Marcelline Ouédraogo now has a three-part objective. First, she wants to spread this form of organized approach to other West Africa countries. Second, she wants to upgrade the production process, starting with the introduction of an oil press machine. And third, she wants to market her product directly to overseas buyers, who she sees as her largest and least-tapped market.

In addition, Marcelline Ouédraogo is working with a local research institute to develop a new hybrid of the karite tree that will bear fruit at a much faster rate.

The person:

Marcelline Ouédraogo, an Ashoka Fellow, was born in 1958 and became involved in women’s issues when in secondary school. There she organized activities supporting girls’ schooling and opposed forced and early marriages and genital excision/mutilation. After graduation, Marcelline went to work for a telecommunications company. She is married, with three children and four adopted orphans.

Web Links:

Description web_address
Ashoka - Changemakers site
HORIZON - One Second Before Sunrise Program IV, with information on uses of KariteProgram IV

Submitted by:


Marcelline Ouédraogo, Ashoka Fellow
Groupement Feminin Songtaaba
1 BP 6696 Ouagadougou 01
Burkina Faso
Fax: 226 34-19-74
(please address any correspondence in French)



A shea butter project in Burkina Faso is documented in in HORIZON International's film "One Second Before Sunrise", Program 4

The television program is available for viewing and downloading at



Links with detailed information are available on the Horizon Solutions Site:

 The categories are:

Agriculture, Air Pollution,  Biodiversity, Desertification,  Energy, the Environment, Global Climate Change, Human Rights, IndustryPopulation, Poverty, Public Health, Sustainable Development, Transportation, Waste ManagementWaterOrganizations and Foundations, Research and InformationWeb Directories and other Media, and Horizon Solutions Site Collaborators


Information Date: 1998-06-01
Information Source: Ashoka; Marcelline Ouédraogo, Ashoka Fellow


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