A cooperative in the Democratic Republic of Congo is helping women and young people make an income by making soap from coffee.
1. Soap from coffee
Congolese women are making soap from coffee, an extra activity that is helping them to add more income to their small revenues. Used to work long hours in the fields near the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo and coming back almost empty-handed, the 43-year-old Nsimire M’Buhendwa saw an opportunity in making soap from coffee.
I used to be a woman that left home in the morning and came back in the evening with almost nothing, not knowing how my children would study.Nsimire M’Buhendwa quoted by Reuters
The mother of four’s life got a bit easier after she joined a women’s cooperative — Heshima Coffee — producing coffee and coffee-infused soap bars which are sold in five Congo provinces, Burundi and Rwanda.
If you look at the coffee sector, there are not many women. Women only work in the fields, but the commercial process is still very much a male-dominated field.Solange Kwidja Kahiriri, Heshima Coffee’s founder
2. Heshima Coffee
Created in 2018, Heshima Coffee helped create a source of income to around 1,500 women and young people in rural areas of east Congo. The cooperative hands out free Arabica coffee seedlings for its members to grow the coffee. Once they return to the cooperative with the final product, Heshima Coffee negotiates directly with buyers, earning the growers a better price.
Today, they produce around 5,000 soap bars a week from coffee beans. The coffee soap is turned into large brown blocks which are cut using hot temperatures into neat rectangles and wrapped by hand, despite the frequent outages in the region.
The main challenge, Kahiriri said, was transporting beans from remote areas with poor road access. “If we had power then it would be easier for us to modernize, which would enable us to work with machines,” she said.
“Members have the guarantee of selling their coffee at a good price,” said Kahiriri in the city of Bukavu, where the cooperative is based.
Despite the limitations that Heshima Coffee’s growers face on their daily lives, they can now send their children to school while guaranteeing they don’t go hungry. The extra money they earn helps women pay for food and household costs in a country where 70% live below the poverty line.