Malawian among nominees in Africa prize for engineering innovation

Catherine Chaima, Nominee for 2020 Africa Engineering Innovation

Catherine Chaima, a chemical engineering student, is among the top fifteen African finalists who were shortlisted to pitch their businesses a chance to win £25,000, in the 2020 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation to be held in South Africa on 3rd September.

This is the first time that a Malawian has been shortlisted for her invention of an anti-bacterial soap made from natural agricultural waste and local ingredients using traditional knowledge.

Chaima used cassava peels and groundnut shells, which normally 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.

A daughter of farming parents, she grew up in rural Malawi, where groundnuts, cassava, banana and rice are popular crops.

As a chemical engineering student, Chaima focused on re-purposing waste. During her final year, she turned her attention to the hidden properties of these agricultural by-products.

She discovered that the leaves, shells and peels her parents threw away could be used to produce potassium hydroxide and the idea of Cathel soaps was conceived.

It is an anti-bacterial soap named after Catherine and her co-founder Ethel and created from natural agricultural waste and local ingredients using traditional knowledge.

Chaima captured with other colleagues who took part in the initiative. Pictures courtesy of the British High Commission

She is upbeat that the process she uses to make the soaps could establish an industry for agricultural waste to become a valuable commodity in Malawi.

“Cathel soap 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, we relied on traditional knowledge to identify natural ingredients such as Moringa, which has anti-bacterial properties”

United Kingdom  Minister for Africa, James Duddridge, will speak at the Prize event founded by the Royal Academy of Engineering;  the delivery partner of the Global Challenges Research Fund which awards support to ambitious African innovators developing engineering solutions to local challenges.

A statement from the British High Commission indicated that in the past eight months, 15 entrepreneurs from Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa and Uganda have undertaken intensive training and mentoring from international business leaders and experts.

Acting UK High Commissioner to Malawi, David Beer, explained that this is Africa’s biggest prize dedicated to engineering innovation, and is yet again up for grabs as applications for 2021 are now open and urged Malawians to apply.

“The Africa Prize is one of UK Government’s initiatives to support innovators across Africa. Scalable engineering solutions developed by ambitious African innovators who understand better the local challenges are key to achieving meaningful sustainable development”. read the statement