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Processed by rural West African women and desired by wealthy Northern consumers of natural beauty products, shea butter seems a prime candidate for fair trade, yet to date there has been little study of the industry. This article analyses the opportunities and constraints of the development of fair-trade exports of shea butter from Burkina Faso, taking into account the context in which shea is produced and sold locally and internationally, the concept of fair trade, and the impact of gender relations on shea production. Although a definitive positive or negative determination cannot be made, given the complex and divergent factors affecting the potential international market and the production process, the author finds that the development of the fair-trade shea butter industry in Burkina Faso has great potential. However, such development must occur with restraint and consideration of possible challenges and limitations, in order to remain sustainable and viable for rural female producers.

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