27-YEAR-OLD Mouahié Kouassi is in a hurry to get to her cosmetics store in the upmarket suburb of Cocody in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. She needs to urgently take stock of her inventory and review the sales from the previous week, as she’s worried about a possible delay in stock deliveries.
“Our production plant is undergoing renovation, and we have taken all necessary measures to ensure our products are still available in our commercial spaces. But I still need to confirm that we have enough remaining stock to fulfil client orders,” she explains.
Kouassi, who holds degrees in biological engineering and agronomy from France and Austria and a master’s degree in international agribusiness, returned to Côte d’Ivoire in 2019 to put her knowledge to use by processing locally-sourced agricultural products.
She decided to start with shea butter, commonly referred to in her home country as “women’s gold”.
“I chose shea butter because it’s a product I’ve used since I was a child for my hair and body. It’s an area I feel most comfortable with, a purely feminine area. I realised that in Europe, people tend to transform and consume what they produce, which is not the case in Côte d’Ivoire. With my mostly young and female team, we transform shea butter into innovative natural cosmetics for hair and body,” explained Kouassi.
To set up her production company, Agrikraft, Kouassi received financial support from her family and, in addition to this, received two million CFA francs (US$3200) through her participation in the Support Program for Small Agro-Transformation (Papat) organised by the Chamber of Commerce of Côte d’Ivoire.
The shea butter supplied to Kouassi comes from women residing in the rural areas of Korhogo, in the northern region of Côte d’Ivoire. These women send their shea butter to Kouassi monthly by bus.
A government study published in 2018 shows that Ivory Coast’s shea butter industry, mainly grown in the northern region, is the country’s third-largest export product, with an annual crop of 250,000 tons. This places the country in fifth
place, globally, for shea exports. Very little of the country’s shea crop undergoes value addition in-country; most is exported raw. Agrikraft hopes to change that.
“When we receive the stock of shea butter, we set to work to transform this natural butter which is done step by step. We do everything carefully under hygienic conditions, from processing to boxing and packaging,” said Kouame Olivia, one of the employees of Agrikraft.
Once the shea is received, the team weighs it and sends it to the production area. Here it is mixed and whipped, and in some instances, to make products smoother and finer, kneaded by hand.
The team adds other ingredients to obtain cosmetic creams. Once the shea product is prepared, it is packaged and labelled. Samples are then sent to a laboratory for testing and approval. Once approved, the product is distributed to various points of sale, including grocery stores and pharmacies, for marketing purposes.
For Kouassi, a challenge with the vegetable product – its smell and texture – led her to a path of innovation.
“As a biologist, I wondered how I could try to solve the smell and texture problems to make shea butter easier to use and that’s how I started producing vanilla and lemon whipped shea butter,” she explained.
Her company, Agrikraft, now sells different types of shea body butter, including vanilla whipped shea butter, lemon whipped shea butter, baobab whipped shea butter and plain shea butter. All her products comply with organic certification standards.
Kouassi sells approximately 500 jars of Agrikraft products daily, priced between 9 and 10 dollars.
“I discovered this product in a pharmacy when I was going to buy medicine, and I admit it, it is of very good quality, and since then, it is this ointment that I use for my body beauty”, says Nancy Arielle, who frequently uses Agrikraft products.
Another highlight of the company’s activity is the “Shea Kids” concept, which donates part of the profits to purchase school kits for the children of the women it works with.
To date, 290 children are being cared for through this initiative, which includes 150 women in rural areas.
“We really thank Agrikraft for not only working with us, the women but also for helping us send our children to school,” says Koné Sita, a shea butter supplier.
Coulibaly Awa, president of the cooperative of Chigata, a village north of Côte d’Ivoire, also a shea butter producer, agrees.
“Thanks to this project, our children receive school kits, reducing our expenses. During COVID-19, all the expenses came back to us, and thanks to Shea Kids, it helps us with our expenses,” she said.
In Jul 2022, Agrikraft won the first prize in the Castel 2022 Award, organised by the Solibra company, a subsidiary of the French group Castel.
“Winning this prize is a great honour for me. It will enable me to invest in improving communication around my product and help my processing unit grow and innovate further in production,” she said.
The products are not only sold in Agrikraft pharmacies in Abidjan but they are also being exported to other countries.
Due to the high demand from foreign customers, we have decided to set up a sales outlet in Gatineau, Canada, and I know soon I’ll also be in many other countries,” Kouassi concluded.