Female Empowerment: Riverine Women Bet on the Production of Biocosmetics

Fifty women in the Médio Juruá region were trained on local raw material production techniques

June, 2022 - In May women attended artisanal soap making and biocosmetic production workshops in the Novo Horizonte community, located in the Médio Juruá Extractive Reserve, in the state of Amazonas. Utilizing local raw materials, such as andiroba and açaí oils, murumuru butter and annatto the women gained understanding of production processes for personal hygiene products, such biodegradable soaps, scented candles, shampoos, and hair conditioners. Fifty people took part in the workshops, representing 21 communities from the region along the Juruá River.

The Association of Agroextractive Women of Médio Juruá (ASMAMJ) consists of 160 members and implements this project. ASMAMJ is envolved in the Médio Juruá Territory Program (PTMJ) since inception. In addition to increasing their visibility and participation in decision-making spaces at the territorial level, the initiative works to develop new sustainable production chains for riverine women. 

Relying on technical and logistical support provided by the PTMJ, the workshops were a first step towards developing a local soap and natural cosmetic production hub, providing  another income generation opportunity for the region. ASMAMJ aims to move forward with the production and marketing of natural cosmetics made from nine products.

Coordinated by SITAWI, the PTMJ has USAID/Brazil, the Partnership Platform for the Amazon (PPA), and Natura as strategic partners. It includes the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, ICMBio, the State Secretariat for the Environment (SEMA), and OPAN, as well as local organizations.

Local challenges — According to Quilvilene Cunha, ASMAMJ treasurer, the biggest challenge to implement activities in Médio Juruá is logistics. Due to the distance and isolation between communities, traveling costs can be very high. Thus, the coordination and support of partners such as those of the PTMJ are fundamental.

Another important need is the adaptation of the production chain processes. Some communities, such as Novo Horizonte, do not work on the extraction of vegetable oils. Their women collect the seeds and fruits, and then send them to another community for processing.

Considering these factors the workshops focused on valuing local raw materials and the group heterogeneity , while adapting production to local realities and varying levels of knowledge. Karina Schulz Borges, a consultant invited to facilitate the training, explains:

“When talking with the women at ASMAMJ, I tried to adapt the methodology to a simpler, but culturally rich, format, including regional ingredients, such as murumuru, andiroba, and castanha-de-cutia. The goal was to add authenticity to the products made by them, and increase their production capacity. We use elements such as tapioca gum for deodorants, cumaru to produce scented candles, resina-de-breu for soaps, and annatto to produce lipsticks, among others.”

Booklets and videos were produced to facilitate the process, provide access to more women, and help guide product development. 

Future outlook — The production and sale of biocosmetics has the potential to leverage other important benefits for women, who traditionally represent a key force in sustainable production chains.

“It was remarkable to see how they were delighted with their ability to transform raw materials they easily find in the forest. This promotes empowerment and improves women's self-esteem. They begin to see the possibility of producing, consuming and, at the same time, selling excellent high-quality biodegradable products, different from what you will find in the market,” points out Karina.

For Quilvilene, this successful initiative improves the quality of life and offers new opportunities, in addition to granting financial autonomy. “Another factors that I consider very important are the lessons learned, and the exchange of experiences among participants during the meetings. We understand that, while working on entrepreneurship, we are also contributing to female empowerment. It is an opportunity to gain knowledge, and knowledge is power,” she explains.

ASMAMJ intends to sell the products in the communities and in the municipality of Carauari. They a plan to invest in online sales through a dedicated webpage. The Novo Horizonte community will be the production hub. In addition to prioritizing sustainable extractive activities and local biodiversity raw materials, the initiative develops natural skin products that do not harm the environment.