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Artisanal soap supports Sahel women and migrating birds

Global demand for shea butter — used in food and skincare — is high. But the West African landscape that's home to the shea tree is suffering from desertification and deforestation. As trees disappear and sand takes over, migrating birds struggle to find food in areas that used to be safe and plentiful winter havens after long flights from Western Europe.

Which is why bird conservation society Vogelbescherming Nederland and development organization Cordaid founded Birds, Bees & Business. The project is aimed at restoring habitats and increasing biodiversity by providing sustainable business opportunities for residents of the Sahel. Its first product is Savannezeep (savannah soap), created in partnership with artisanal soap manufacturer Werfzeep.

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In addition to shea butter, the soap contains shea honey — bees are crucial both as a food source for birds, and for pollinating shea trees so that they'll produce nuts. Collecting nuts and processing them into shea butter is traditionally done by women. Birds, Bees & Business helps them improve their production process, organize as cooperatives and find international buyers willing to pay a premium for sustainable shea butter. 

Savannezeep not only integrates habitat restoration, wildlife conservation and economic development, but connects producers in West Africa with consumers in Western Europe by way of birds that call both continents home.