Waste to Wealth: Indigenous Cocoa Farmers in Nigeria

The subject of poverty, particularly among rural households, has been a dominant discourse among academics in Nigeria for over three decades – despite the economic potential that abounds in the country’s agricultural sector, and the cocoa sector in particular. Often, cocoa farmers concentrate mainly on the bean seed because of the ‘cash’ associated with the crop, while neglecting other parts of the cocoa pod. A recent visit by the APRA Nigeria team to cocoa farmers in Iwara, Osun State, provided an insight into the country’s cocoa value chain, and a glimpse of the potential for turning waste into wealth.

Cocoa pods are broken to remove the beans, while the pods are discarded as waste material, which is either burned or left on the farm to decompose. For a long time, the pods were considered waste, until some community members – particularly women – used the cocoa pod as the main raw material in the production of indigenous ‘black soap’, to help generate additional income.

The solution is stirred until it thickens

Black soap, as it is commonly called, is the traditional washing compound made from the saponification of oil and alkali. The oil base is sourced from palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil. Active ingredients can include plantain leaves, palm tree leaves or cocoa pods – in isolation or combination. To give the soap a pleasant aroma, essential oils like tea tree and lemon are then added.  All these materials are readily available locally, unlike other conventional soap materials, which are mostly imported.

The production procedure is as follows:

  • Active ingredients like cocoa pod or plantain bark are oven roasted until dry, and are subsequently burned into ash.
  • Ashes from the active ingredient are dissolved in warm water until they are properly mixed.
  • The base oil is heated on a stove.
  • Once the oil is sufficiently heated, the liquid ash is added and stirring continues until the required shade of brown or black is obtained.
  • At this stage, essential oil is added to provide a scent.
  • Once a dark waxy substance forming at the surface of the pot is noticed, it ready to be shaped – either in molds or, once cooled, by hand.

As a cleaning product, soap is an essential part of our daily lives. It safely and effectively removes dirt, germs and other contaminants, promoting a hygienic lifestyle. Beyond providing an extra source of income to the family, then, black soap promotes healthy living. Therefore, soap is an indispensable daily requirement in rural life and homes.

While the use of locally made black soap may seem not so popular today, women who still deal in the production and sale of black soap boast of good patronage and are proud of what they do. “Black soap is a profitable enterprise; it is our family business. We use proceeds from it to send our children to school and settle bills,” explains Nurani Atorise Olorunda, Oyo State.

Within the framework of the research, APRA would seek to address the issues of female empowerment in the case of Nigerian black soap production. In tandem with Nigeria’s drive for economic recovery, promoting the transformation of waste to a means of livelihood for more women could be a potential avenue to promote the rural economy, while improving the Nigerian soap market with more vibrant local content. The APRA Nigeria team hope to explore the dynamics of production, commercialisation, challenges and prospects – as well as how gender is implicated – in the whole process.

Written by Kehinde Adesina Thomas