Congo's coffee soap helps women thrive

STORY: If you're fan of the smell of a fresh brew in the morning then this might be the soap for you.

It's made from coffee by a women's cooperative in Democratic Republic of Congo.

And it's a product that has been a big success, says Heshima Coffee's founder Solange Kwidja Kahiriri.

"It takes about three weeks to make the coffee soaps. We make about 5,000 soaps in a week. For now, our soaps can be found in five provinces in DRC."

Kahiriri used to work in communications but was introduced to the coffee industry by a client.

In 2018 she founded the entrepreneurship group in Congo's east.

She says it has created a source of income for 1,500 women and young people.

"It’s not an easy job for women. If you look at the coffee sector, there are not many women. Women only work in the fields but are part of the commercial process. It’s still very much a male dominated field."

The cooperative produces coffee as well as the soaps.

It gives out free coffee plant seedlings and connects members to fair-trade buyers once beans have been harvested and processed.

The soaps are made at a Heshima-owned factory in Bukavu.

One hundred women work there - among them, Maman Nsimire.

"I am able to put food on the table thanks to this association so it is very good."

There are challenges.

Kahiriri says poor road infrastructure for transporting coffee beans, regular electricity outages and a lack of funding are the main issues.

She says they could do even greater things if they had more financial support.