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Shea butter project offers hope from Greenock to Ghana

By Reevel Alderson
BBC Scotland's social affairs correspondent

media captionShea nuts are gathered in Ghana to be made into ingredients for cosmetics

A rain-lashed steel cabin in the hills above Inverclyde may seem as far from the heat of Africa as it is possible to be.

But it provides a unique link offering hope from Greenock to Ghana.

Shea butter, a product of a wild-growing nut in northern Ghana, is at the heart of a successful pilot project which is about to go into full production.

The nuts have, for centuries, been gathered by impoverished women and vulnerable children, earning just 75p per day.

But they could earn no money outwith the harvest season.

A Greenock-based charity, Trade Right International (TRI), organised the production of shea butter, a more valuable product widely used in cosmetics as a moisturiser, salve or lotion.

Now more than 1,000 women are engaged in the work, earning twice as much.

School fees

Trevor Gregory, chief executive of TRI, said it was providing fair trade income for some of Ghana's poorest people in an area of subsistence agriculture.

image captionA school in northern Ghana has been funded by the efforts of TRI

"When they're working with us, their income goes up to about £1.50 a day," he said.

"They're able to pay for school fees; they're able to pay for medical fees.

"And it also means during the 'hungry months' they have told us they are not selling their children into bonded labour or child trafficking, and we're actually transforming the community as a result."

Profits from the Ghana work have already provided a new school in the area, and are also funding other projects.

The shea butter is now transported in bulk to Greenock in 20ft (6m) containers to be turned into premium soap and cosmetics.

Since 2010, the project based in Inverclyde has employed nine recovering drug addicts to manufacture the products.

Confidence boost

John, 25, from County Durham has been drug-free for 15 months, having begun taking drugs aged 13.

He said the work had been a vital part of the recovery process.

image captionTrevor Gregory, chief executive of TRI, said plans were under way to increase funding and expand the business

"It has given me confidence to get back into the work place," he said. "It has shown me new skills to get back out there, to get back into society and to work."

Willie, 33, from Greenock, started taking drugs aged 12 before becoming addicted to heroin and methadone.

He is now sober and says being drug-free and having a job have been key.

"If you're sober and you don't have a job, you have no purpose," he said. "You're getting up in the mornings and you have nothing to do, so you'll probably end up going back onto drugs."

TRI is currently putting together a funding package of £350,000 to develop the business employing 20 people who will receive nationally-recognised training qualifications to help them progress further in employment.

A supermarket chain, based in the south of England, and a number of specialist spa outlets are in negotiations to sell the soap, and plans are under way to extend the range to liquid soaps, creams and baby soaps.