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What comes to mind when you think about the palm oil industry? For most, its common to think of the large plantations of South East Asia and the red/orange oil commonly found in a wide variety of household goods. Those are two key facets of industrial palm however there’s another key product we often forget – palm kernel oil. Crude Palm Kernel Oil (CPKO) comes from the kernel of the palm fruit- as opposed to palm oil, which comes from the mesocarp. In Kigoma, CPKO is the backbone of a growing industry: soap.
Oil palm fruits

CPKO soap is the most common cleaning product in Kigoma. It is found in markets and households across the region and is used to clean most everything, from dishes to clothes to people. At the small-scale, the industry is predominately female driven, and the vast majority of local soap merchants are women. Soap is commonly sold in long bars (pictured below), which cost TSH 2,000 (USD 0.86).

A merchant selling palm oil soap at a local market

In Kigoma, soap is primarily produced for local purchase, with some exported to Dar es Salaam and other cities across Tanzania as well as regionally to Burundi, DRC, and Kenya. To make soap, producers purchase palm kernels from smallholder farmers, which they press into CPKO. CPKO is combined with a caustic soda dilution which is then left to harden into large blocks of soap. Once hardened, the blocks are cut, packaged, and distributed to markets across the region.

CPKO ready to be made into soap
Hardened blocks of soap ready for cutting
Hardened blocks of soap ready for cutting

The soap industry in Kigoma is still largely underdeveloped, with only fifteen producers working in the region. As palm production expands so too does the opportunity to increase soap production. By improving the palm value chain, we have the opportunity to empower women-led businesses.

Palm kernel soap ready for purchase

Interested in making palm oil soap at home? Check out this recipe from The Sage.

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