The daughter of farming parents, Chaima grew up in rural Malawi, where groundnuts, cassava, banana and rice are popular crops. Cassava peels and groundnut shells, however, pile up around farms as they are not seen as powerful composting material. While banana leaves have many applications, the sheer volume of waste produced by this crop means mounds of dry leaves pile up.
As a chemical engineering student, Chaima focuses on re-purposing waste. During her final year, she turned her attention to the hidden properties of these agricultural by-products. When she discovered that the leaves, shells and peels her parents threw away could be used to produce potassium hydroxide, the idea of Cathel soaps was born.
Cathel soap – named after Catherine and her co-founder Ethel – also uses alternative anti-bacterial ingredients. Several commercial soaps in Malawi rely on Triclosan, which not only kills harmful bacteria, but also bacteria required to maintain healthy skin. For Cathel, the pair relied on indigenous knowledge to identify natural ingredients such as Moringa, which has anti-bacterial properties as well.
Chaima hopes that the process she uses to make the soaps could establish an industry for agricultural waste to become a valuable commodity in Malawi.