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Malawi: Soap made from cassava peels boosts farmers’ income

A thick, dark cloud slowly engulfs the sky. Although it hasn’t rained for the past two days, it will certainly rain this morning. In her white hijab and sky-blue blouse, Fatima Saidi quickly dashes to a field nearby her house to harvest cassava for today’s meal before the rains start.

Within an hour, Mrs. Saidi arrives back home and starts washing and peeling cassava. She says, “Cassava is a good food when cooked. We also dry it and make flour which we use to prepare our meals.”

Mrs. Saidi lives in Mitanga village, Chiradzulu district, in the southern region of Malawi. She says she will soon receive additional income by selling the cassava peels that she throws away when making cassava flour and before cooking the tubers. There is a new use for these peels: soap, made by Catherine Chaima.

Mrs. Saidi explains: “I am happy to learn that Ms. Chaima has discovered a way of making soap using cassava peels. This means that, once her soap gets approved by government, I will make extra money.”

Ms. Chaima discovered that it’s possible to make soap from cassava peels, typically thrown away by farmers and consumers, and this has raised the prospect of additional income for cassava farmers.

Ms. Chaima hails from Muyaya village in Mulanje district, where many farmers grow cassava. She graduated in 2019 from the Malawi University of Science and Technology, where she studied chemical engineering.

She says the idea of making soap from cassava peels came to her because it used to pain her when farmers threw away the brown skins after peeling. She explains, “I was inspired to solve the problem of throwing away cassava peels. I had to come up with a technology that could add value to cassava peels—and soap was the solution.”

She adds, “I knew that selling the peels to soap makers could also help farmers maximize income.”

Standard soaps use an expensive ingredient called sodium hydroxide. Ms. Chaima says her aim was to create a cheap soap with similar or better quality than conventional soap. She explains, “I needed to make soap that is cheap and user-friendly; hence I needed to use appropriate technology and local inputs such as cassava peels.”

To make her soap, Ms. Chaima replaced sodium hydroxide with cassava peel waste. Other ingredients include rice husks and oil.

Thus, Ms. Chaima created a good soap with biologically-derived ingredients and without chemicals. The soap has high cleaning abilities and it produces more foam.

Ms. Chaima is in the process of obtaining certification for the soap from the Malawi Bureau of Standards so that farmers and the general public can use it in the fight against infectious diseases such as COVID-19.

Soap made from cassava peels has many advantages. Ms. Chaima explains: “Sodium hydroxide is expensive and the discovery of replacing it with cassava peel wastes drastically reduces the price of soap. The soap is also good for a clean environment because it has no chemicals.”

Ms. Chaima says that once her soap gets certification, it will be important to train groups of farmers to produce more cassava in order for them to benefit. She will also need funding to procure machines to help her produce the soap on a large scale.

Mrs. Saidi says that if Ms. Chaima gets her soap approved, she will take it upon herself as chairperson of the village development committee to promote cassava farming so that many people can benefit from selling cassava peels.

She says: “Many farmers will benefit a lot from the cassava peel soap-making technology that Ms. Chaima has developed. There will be a need to tell the whole village to start growing cassava.”

Photo: Mrs. Saidi prepares cassava at her home.

This resource is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.