Vermont Soap sources fair-trade shea butter and protects hippo population

Vermont Soap sources fair-trade shea butter and protects hippo population

The West African village women who make Vermont Soap’s shea butter are compensated fairly so they can help preserve the last remaining hippo habitat in NW Ghana.

Natural products innovator Vermont Soap sources certified organic shea butter directly from tribal craftswomen in Africa; and the women are paid a premium for their efforts.  Because of the benefits of this value-added shea production, the villages practice community conservation preserving both the habitat and members of the last remaining intact hippo population in NW Ghana.

When these West African women make shea butter for Vermont Soap they are paid realistic market prices and are also pre-financed in advance of all nut purchases and grinding of the nuts.  Additional payments for packaging, loading and other costs are made, plus they are paid a premium above prevailing local prices for anything that is certified organic. All materials, transportation costs and equipment are provided, plus a percentage of all organic nut purchases is donated to the hippo conservation project.

Hippo conservation is a joint effort between the Nature Conservation Research Centre (NCRC), Ghana and the Calgary Zoo, Canada. This project ties a guaranteed market for the community’s shea nut pickers with an organic certification process that covers the entire area of the hippo sanctuary.  The villages agree to protect the hippos, and in return they are directly linked to beneficial markets – to buyers like Vermont Soap who agree to buy their high quality shea butter.

“In 2001 I called Aubrey Hampton, of Aubrey Organics, to find out if he needed anything from West Africa.  He asked me to look for certified organic village made shea butter with a decent shelf life." says Larry Plesent, Vermont Soap's Founder.  "At that time I could not find any villages that made shea butter with USDA organic certification, and have spent the last 10 years working with women’s co-ops, NGOs and African Exporters to bring a certified organic product with exceptional shelf life to the market," adds Plesent. 

The project began to come together when Vermont Soap partnered with Dr. Peter Lovett in Tamale, Ghana, and The Savannah Fruits Company (SFC); a sustainable business that provides the links, logistics and financing  allowing African cooperatives to export value added agricultural products to the global market.  “We met Dr. Lovett in Ghana and really liked the model he proposed; to bring a degree of economic stability to some of the poorest regions on the planet, and to protect biodiversity in the process," says Plesent.  Our role became building and supplying the US organic cosmetics market with shea butter as a raw material, providing a broad customer base for the fruits of literally thousands of women’s’ efforts,” adds Plesent. SFC annually supports the livelihoods of 1,500 sheanut women pickers and 2,000 processing women during the sustainable export of both conventional and organic shea butter. Their application to become a member of the Union for Ethical Biotrade ( is currently under review.

A proprietary natural "polishing" technique was developed for the shea butter to pasteurize, homogenize, de-water and to remove the bittering latex that appears to cause reactions in a small minority of people.  Through this new process, Vermont Soap's Certified Organic Pure AfricanShea Nut Butter retains all of the properties that make shea butter legendary for skin remedies (instead of refining them out).  Fresh shea butter made by traditional village methods is full of all kinds of botanical goodies like triterpenes.  Pure African Shea Nut Butter is processed in a manner that gives it an extra long shelf life and stays fresher much longer than most other shea products on the market. 

Shea nut butter is rich in antioxidants and vitamins, is non-allergenic, has antiseptic attributes, and is helpful for addressing trouble skin conditions such as dermatitis, dry skin, eczema, insect bites, rashes, sunburn, topical burns, stretch marks and scar tissue. Shea nut butter has anti-inflammatory properties, and penetrates skin and tissue, and thus may be beneficial for arthritis symptoms, muscle aches & pains, as well as for massage. 

Natural handmade shea butter has a creamy consistency, an attractive pale yellow color and a mild slightly nutty aroma.  To learn more about Pure African Shea Nut Butterand view images of how it is made, please visit

Vermont Soap especially recommends applying shea nut butter at night, so it has time to soak into the skin and contribute to a supple and resilient complexion. Shea butter is also used as a lip balm, ointment, salve base, soap additive, and unguent.  It is efficatious on burns and all dry and irritated skin conditions (except for Poison Ivy, Oak etc., which contain irritating oils that need to be removed with Tea Tree Castile Liquid Soap). It is also recommended for wrinkle smoothing and prevention, and for the treatment of sun damaged skin. 

Vermont Soap's certified organic Pure African Shea Nut Butter is created by women's co-ops in Ghana and packaged at the company's certified organic processing facility in Middlebury, VT.  It is available in several sizes for consumers and retailers to purchase:  a new .3 ounce container; a 2 ounce tin and an economical 64 ounce container, and is sold in 25kilo boxes at bulk discount prices.  Order by calling 1-866-SOAP-4U2 (toll-free) or online -  Vermont Soap Organics offers certified organic alternatives to the chemical and petroleum based personal care products now in general use.  They manufacture handmade bar soap for sensitive skin, the first truly organic shower gels, organic, non-toxic cleaners and much, much more right here in the U.S.

Shea nut butter production is an important aspect of tribal culture in West Africa.  For centuries, the collection of shea fruit and the nut processing has been conducted solely by women and it is often referred to as "Women’s Gold."  Globalization is a challenge facing tribes in West Africa.  Multi-national companies are trying to control the shea market price and often process the nuts outside of Africa.  This transfers processing jobs and revenue from the native people to the corporations.  

“We empower the villages by establishing sustainable commerce, assisting with organic certification, and by helping the producer groups manage their business,” says Plesent.  “We also help them achieve the quality required for the export market and raise awareness of and provide advice about environmental sustainability and other social challenges,” adds Plesent.

There are many eco-friendly aspects of traditional shea nut butter production.  It is a natural, renewable product from trees that don’t require treatment with pesticides or water for irrigation.  No chemicals are used in the production of traditional shea nut butter, only water and women power.  Although we focus on the fruit, all parts of the tree have some practical use capitalized upon by local people. 

It is worth noting the difference between traditional shea nut butter, and that produced by mass-industrial means.  A large amount of the shea nut butter used in mainstream cosmetics and high end chocolates is derived from industrial processing.  Industrial nut butter is inexpensive; however, the intense processing strips away the healing and sun protection properties.  This is because commercial shea butters are mechanically produced with the goal of removing the odor and color of the material.  Sometimes the potent botanical molecules are in the color.  Industrial operations typically use a hexane solvent extraction process.  Traces of hexane, a carcinogen, may potentially be found in the resulting shea nut butter.  “The handcrafting process used to make Pure African Shea Butter is chemical-free and leaves all of the natural botanical goodies in there,” notes Plesent.

In a unique partnership with local village tribe’s people, and the Calgary Zoo this shea butter actually protects and preserves wild hippos and their natural habitat. The village in the NW Region in northern Ghana agreed to protect the last remaining wild hippos and to protect their habitat through region wide organic certification. In exchange, a premium is paid on all certified organic shea butter produced in the Region. Sustainable employment is provided in exchange for environmental conservation. This exchange also allows people to stay in their traditional villages with their vast extended family network, rather than migrate to already overcrowded cities in search of often elusive prosperity.

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