ALTERNATIVE INCOME

Beach operators turn to soap making after tourism collapse

They used to idle home until the next tourism season. Now they are proactive

In Summary

• Women beach traders in Malindi began making soaps in January after Kawt training

• They also make Jik, Dettol and believe with support, they can stop relying on tourism

Baharini women beach operators in Malindi began making soaps in January after the pandemic taught them a lesson of not relying entirely on the tourism sector.

When Covid-19 was declared in Kenya last year, members of the Baharini women beach operators were at work.

The group, which consists of 37 women, deals with curios and other tourist-targeting businesses. 

“We were told there was a pandemic and before even discussing about it, police came and kicked us out from the shores of the Indian Ocean,” says Pili Kadzo, the treasurer.

Lockdowns and a ban on flights soon followed. The Coast, which largely depends on tourism, was hit hard. In Malindi, tourism players mostly relied on the Italian market, and to date, the situation has never returned to normal.

Kadzo and company stayed home for two months without work, not knowing how they would survive as their only source of income had been shut down indefinitely.

Traditionally tourism players in Malindi operate from August to April, which is the high tourism season, and close business for three months. 

The women used to idle at home until the season begins again to return to the beach and start afresh after spending all their hard-earned cash during the low season.

However, the pandemic taught them a lesson of not relying entirely on the tourism sector.

In January this year, they were introduced to the soap making business by Kate Mwikali, the chairperson of Progressive Welfare Association, Malindi.

Mwikali, who also chairs the Kenya Association of Women in Tourism Coast region, initially supported the women with food for three months when the pandemic struck.

She also organised training on technology to help them market their products.

Kadzo said Mwikali told them to begin the soap making business, and she would help them look for the market to get income.

“Every month, we were taking part in clean-up exercises in the town and the beach, together with other stakeholders under PWAM,” she said.

Mwikali, through Kawt, told them to start making the multi-purpose soap and Jik.

Pili Kadzo, a member of Baharini women's beach operators, shows some of the samples of soap they make locally for sale at Blue Key beach area in Malindi
Pili Kadzo, a member of Baharini women's beach operators, shows some of the samples of soap they make locally for sale at Blue Key beach area in Malindi
Image: ALPHONCE GARI

CALL FOR SUPPORT

The advantage of the venture is that they can produce the soap at their place of work during their free time at the beach.

Kadzo urged the national and county governments to help them with training that will enable them to package the soaps well, get many clients and sell the soaps in large quantities.

Currently, they can only make between 10 and 20 litres of soap at a time. But with support, they can expand and be large producers.

They also want to be trained on how to make solid soap.

Due to the low number of tourists at the beach, the women have time to make the multi-purpose soap, Jik, Dettol and acid, which is used to remove strong stains.

Kadzo said during lunch hours, they converge at their area and arrange chemicals and water.

On the day the Star visited, they were making 10 litres of soap, which they sell at Sh60 per litre, which once sold would bring an income of Sh600 to the group.

It takes three to four hours to make soap for it to be ready for sale.

They had also made four litres of Jik, which once sold will generate Sh1,400.

“It takes the whole day to produce Jik right now. We have begun the process and it will be ready by tomorrow,” Kadzo said.

Having worked in the beach for eight years, the mother of one said all her life, she never expected the world could come to a standstill. It really shocked her to hear the pandemic was global.

Kadzo never thought she would ever be kicked out of her work due to a disease, but it became a reality and the challenge was how to feed the children, pay rent and pay school fees.

“We have begun seeing the light in this venture,” she said.

She said the county government should support them by buying their products and place them in their different departments, such as hospitals and dispensaries.

Kadzo shows the products they sell to tourists in Malindi
Kadzo shows the products they sell to tourists in Malindi
Image: ALPHONCE GARI
We had no other economic activity apart from the beach operation business, and it's like God brought corona to open our eyes
Consolata Ogutu

EYE-OPENING MOMENT

Consolata Ogutu, the group chairperson, said they were shocked when the pandemic struck the world but have since realised the need to think outside the box and come up with new ventures.

The mother of five said they were used to relying on foreign tourists to come to Malindi for them to get money after selling their products.

“We had no other economic activity apart from the beach operation business, and it's like God brought corona to open our eyes,” said Ogutu, who has been operating at the beach for 20 years.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, she said they have been active in clean-up exercises with KWS and Pwam, together with other stakeholders, which has enabled them to get networks for selling some of their soaps.

She thanked Kawt for supporting them with food when the pandemic struck.

Ogutu loves their new venture and called on investors to buy their products and help them expand as they cannot depend on the few litres they make currently.

“Any organisations and even politicians wishing to support groups should help Baharini women's group to expand their project,” she said.

The chairwoman said they are now forced to buy water for processing the soaps and do not have storage, which is costly to them.

“If we are empowered, this one will be our company, and I believe by the grace of God, we shall be able to open a soap making factory,” she said.

Eunice Charo, the group secretary, said the project has given them hope for development as they have begun saving money out of the sales they made.

The mother of two said business is still very low but with proper funding, they shall be able to produce more.

“We have an account that requires money to be deposited from our work. Today, I deposited Sh5,000, which we got from sales of the soap in the beginning,” she said.

Mwikali, who has been at the forefront in supporting the women's groups, said she told the women to begin soap making as an alternative to their normal jobs in the beach after Covid.

She said the idea was conceived during one of the Malindi town clean-ups, which were attended by youth working under the Kazi Mtaani programme initiated by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Mwikali said such innovations will help the youth and women to earn income from their work even when tourism is doing badly, while the youth can keep earning after the expiry of Kazi Mtaani.

“They have a very nice model aligned to the circular economy. If they are taught on proper packaging and use of natural ingredients in processing, they can go far,” she said.

INNOVATION IS KEY

The Kawt Coast chair said the women can be taught how to plant coconuts, make products such as shower gel from it, and get approval from the Kenya Bureau of Standards for their products to get a space in the shelves of supermarkets.

She called on the Kebs to organise training for the women on standards of the products they make to enable them to make quality products and linkages to the market.

“Such innovation will ease their reliance on the beach. They will no longer see the need of going to the beach for survival, and it will reduce the pressure on the beaches,” Mwikali said.

The idea is aligned with the President’s agenda of industrialisation, she said, as they only require capacity building to achieve that.

Mwikali said currently, Kazi Mtaani youth in Malindi and Baharini women beach operators are making the soap products. She urged the government to begin buying the products for the groups to get good income.

Catherine Muli, the treasurer of Kilifi County Association of Women in Tourism, said they have been conducting training for the women on digital networking together with the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

She said they stopped due to the pandemic but want to resume the training to enlighten the women on how to create a network through the digital platforms and do business from the comfort of their homes.

Through the digital platform, they will be able to sell the products to people who are in other places.

“We do not need them to sell their products to people who are coming here only. We want them to sell them online because with that, sales will grow,” Muli said.

With that, they will address the issue of congestion in the beach, confrontation with the police and restore sanity for tourists visiting the area, she said.

With such innovations, soon there could be more groups who will venture into different projects that will address the overreliance on the tourism sector for survival.