Forest soap increases economic sustainability

Soap-making goes back thousands of years, however a unique capacity building approach in central Africa is also helping communities sustainably harvest forest resources and increase household incomes.   
 
In the Campo-Ma’an Model Forest, in southern Cameroon, the traditional extraction of oils from tree nuts – such as palm, coconut, allanblackia, cacao and njansang – was integrated into a new value-added economic activity – soap production.
 
Soap is easy to produce, readily sellable, does not spoil and transports easily. Its sale can supplement household incomes. Furthermore, soap made with mixed tree oils is more affordable than the raw oil itself, making the ethno-botanical properties of medicinal oil more accessible to a greater number of people.
 
Through the project, it was found that women are particularly interested in new economic activities which produce direct financial benefits for them and their families; however the additional work must result in immediate tangible benefits to ensure continued adoption.
 
The Model Forest used a self-selected entrepreneurial development model to introduce women to making soap. Seven women were selected as peer facilitators and received training in soap making, nut tree propagation techniques, and business and marketing skills. They, in turn, then offered teaching to 20 others in their communities. Women learned how to make body and household soaps from a teaching guide developed by Cuso International. Almost 120 people, including 26 men, were taught. The unexpected involvement of men indicates local populations do see a potential economic benefit from soap production
 
The women also experimented with adding flower infusions and additional ingredients, such as papaya leaves which provide a natural foaming agent.  
 
The relatively unstructured training approach, in a culture where a high degree of distrust of organised management persists, was instrumental in insuring the longer-term adoption of a new value-added household activity.
 
Empowering women and men to make and market soap supports the African Model Forest Network’s mission to build people’s capacity to positively transform the landscape around them and enhance their economic sustainability.
 

The French-language soap fabrication guide is available online at: http://bit.ly/1hhQqxa