Case study: Shea butter

The first application of the Toontibo regenerative trading model is with the Saakuba community and the Shea butter value chain. 
STEP 1 – INITIATE: Sourcing communities prioritise and define projects. We help increase the chance of success by creating critical preconditions.

Toontibo’s regenerative trading model starts and ends in the same place, the sourcing communities. 

The custodians of the first step are the Saakuba community and its leaders who know their own needs and can best deliver progress. 

Our regenerative trading model has three imperatives: 

  • To work with the sourcing community, whose people have a deep understanding of the local culture, traditions and needs.  Local problems require bespoke socio-cultural and economic solutions. We seek out community leaders who are willing to put the community’s interest above self-interest. 
  • To provide support for local initiatives that are being created by its people and for its people.  In the last few years, Leap into Life Foundation has raised funds for and built a community-based Shea butter production centre.  It has also introduced organisational structures that make sense to the women producers and at the same time ensuring efficiency and consistent quality.
  • To remove barriers within the trading process that prevent local empowerment and community vitality.  Producers are chronically underpaid and we are fixing that.  We focus on handcrafted products to keep value-adding activities (and therefore value) in local communities. We trade directly to retain value within our own value chain.  We return a profit to fund local community projects that raise the base. 
STEP 2 – SMART HANDCRAFT: We harness the inherent knowledge and skills of sourcing communities, creating jobs which provide dignity and put food on the table.

Handcrafting Shea butter is strongly connected to local tradition and is highly valued. For generations, mothers have been passing on this skill to their daughters. In addition to generating income, Shea butter making is an important social custom, allowing the women to strengthen friendships, resolve conflicts and build stronger communities. 

Whilst we do not oppose mechanisation in principle, we aim to ensure that sourcing communities remain a key part of the value chain. Reducing women producers to Shea nut collectors harms their dignity as well as income. Shea nut collectors earn around a third of Shea butter producers, who already earn as little as a quarter of the Ghanaian poverty rate.   

The Leap into Life foundation has developed an ongoing Action Learning Programme so that women who produce Shea butter have the opportunity to raise their production and organisational capacities and participate in the value chain as fully-fledged contributors. 

STEP 3 – PAY: We commit to paying producers a stable net wage of at least poverty rate (which is 4 times more than the current practice) that allows them to release some of the survival pressure.

We consider it a basic human right that people earn a decent income for the valuable work that they do.  Our cost structure allows us to pay the female Shea butter producers a stable net wage of at least the local poverty rate, which is four times as much as the current practice provides. This releases the day-to-day survival tension and provides safety and stability.   

By taking care of today’s needs, we release energy for tomorrow’s priorities, for example by creating businesses, developing organic community farms and recycling/upcycling initiatives. We co-fund these initiatives through the profit we generate and return to our shareholders. 

STEP 4 – SELL: We deliver a premium quality ethically produced product at a competitive price

Shea butter producers and co-operatives are over-reliant on intermediary traders. Toontibo is a single bridge between the needs of sourcing communities’ and those of our clients.  

Our customers are leading players in the cosmetics and food industries. Their reputation is built on consistently high-quality products, produced in a demonstrably ethical and regenerative manner. Our model ensures that our prices are competitive too. Our customers make a major difference just by ordering their Shea butter from Toontibo. Together with our partners, we take care of the producers’ income, their wellbeing, the community and the local environment.  It is all built into the way that Toontibo does business. 

STEP 5 – OFFER: We have a future proof sourcing model that demonstrably contributes to our clients ESG strategies.

Society and consumers are increasingly demanding involvement in and commitment to environmental and social issues from the brands they buy. Fairness, authenticity, transparency, and traceability are critical components of the new trust relationship between brands and consumers.  

Working with Toontibo contributes positively to our clients’ ESG journey and we impact directly on six of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and indirectly on another nine. We can do this because our business model serves the community instead of the community serving our business model. 

Our way of doing business allows all stakeholders to thrive. 

STEP 6 – RETURN: We return profit from the trading company to our sourcing communities to finance their projects and to find additional partners and financing.

The Saakuba community is Toontibo’s co-founder and shares in our profits. This helps fund community-driven projects that strengthen its vitality. Top of the list of projects is the development of organic community farming and initiatives to upcycle waste to satisfy the energy need and to reduce deforestation. 

With Toontibo as a gateway to the international market and the Leap into Life Foundation as a capacity-builder, we plan to attract business and investment capital to unlock other communities in the future.   

With each cycle, the capacity to co-create and the emergence of new, real-life solutions among all stakeholders involved will grow. 

The opportunity is here. Real difference is just a transaction away.