When we think about diversifying the products output by a coffee farm—be it via cascara, honey, or even coffee leaf tea—we are generally discussing things that affect the farm owner, with the implicit idea that the additional revenue streams will also benefit the coffee pickers and other individuals who work on the farm. But in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one use for coffee is providing extra income to female coffee workers: soap made out of coffee.
As reported by Reuters, the coffee soap is the product of Heshima Coffee, a women’s coffee producing cooperative in Bukavu, DRC. Started in 2018, Heshima works to create new revenue streams for women in the rural eastern parts of Congo by providing them with “free coffee plant seedlings and connecting members to fair-trade buyers once beans have been harvested and processed.” It works to give ownership of what is produced to the women who would otherwise work on someone else’s coffee plantation, “barely [earning] enough money to put food on the table.”
And while some of their coffee crop gets sold to coffee shops and roasters, a portion of it goes to produce Heshima’s coffee-infused soaps. In the Bukavu-based factory, 100 women are employed by Heshima, hand-making and packaging soaps created with coffee beans. Per Reuters, the factory workers are able to produce about 5,000 bars of soap a week, all manually since power outages are common occurrences and can last for weeks at a time.
Heshima’s coffee soaps are sold across five provinces in the DRC as well as Burundi and Rwanda. Per Solange Kwidja Kahiriri, Heshima Coffee’s founder, they are helping provide more stable incomes to women as well as offering them a chance to be part of an additional part of the coffee chain.
“Members have the guarantee of selling their coffee at a good price,” Kahiriri states. “If you look at the coffee sector… women only work in fields but are not part of the commercial process.”