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Author: Jane Coleman
Tags: Neem Lotion , Peace Corps , Zambia
Natural Mosquito Repellent Production in Zambia: Soaps and Lotions: Results of the research, design, and development of locally produced repellents in the Appropriate Technology context in Luapula Province, Zambia
Luapula Province, Zambia is blessed with fertile waterways, seasonal rivers, and an abundance of low lying wetlands. Combined with a reliably warm climate, these factors result in a comparatively high incidence of malaria. In Mansa district alone, there were an estimated 516 cases per 1000 people in 2006 (PSI). The need for locally accessible means of prevention is clear as education and net distribution, while effective in reducing case incidence, are not comprehensive.
A team of two Peace Corps Volunteers and two Host Country National Counterparts from rural communities developed, produced and tested various methods for the prevention of malaria via application of natural soaps and lotions at an Appropriate Technology Workshop held in Mansa, Luapula Province, Zambia, 22/05/2012 – 27/05/2012. The team developed the idea for their products by setting a series of design requirements to ensure that the repellents would be affordable, accessible, culturally compatible, and effective. This was accomplished through researching ICE materials and interviews with HCNs that live in the affected communities.
The team found that lotion production in particular has a strong cultural precedent in the Luapula area. Palm oil is used in the Lake Bangweulu area in the eastern part of the province as a moisturizing lotion for the skin and as a cooking fuel. Palm is so ubiquitous in this region that prices are well below the market value of any other oil, estimated at ZMK 8,000 (US$ 1.60) per 2.5 Liters of raw product. This accessibility makes palm oil an excellent candidate for use in natural production.
Neem leaves were used to give the lotion a repellent quality. Neem trees grow well in the Mansa area but are not very common throughout the region. The team used a recipe that used shea butter as a base and chose to replace this ingredient with palm oil to make the lotion more locally applicable (Neem Cream Recipe: A Natural Mosquito Repellent, Olga Samborska & Nyima Camara, PC/Gambia). The neem leaves were boiled and the resulting tea was mixed with soap shavings and palm oil to produce an attractive orange lotion. This product was very popular with HCN counterparts attending the workshop and has a high degree of cultural compatibility. Many of the HCN counterparts suggested adding glycerin solution to the lotion, a practice widespread in Zambia, to provide more cosmetic properties.
Testing results were mixed. Several PCVs used the lotion in the evenings to see how effective a repellent it is but not clear control was established and feedback was too varied to adequately process. The lotion needs to be tested for resiliency and effectiveness with captive mosquitoes under close observation for an accurate assessment. These conditions were not possible to meet at the Provincial Resource Center in Mansa and should be considered in the future.
The design team found that soap production is cultural compatible and feasible in rural Luapula but is not prevalent. Basic recipes use raw plant oil, caustic soda, water, and a mould to manufacture solid bars of soap and are easily demonstrated. The use of caustic soda is questionable as the substance is relatively hazardous and only available in more urban markets. Caustic soda is affordable, however, with an estimated cost of ZMK 11,000 (US$ 2.20) per kilogram; a cost of about ZMK 2,000 (US$ 0.40) per kilogram of soap. This ingredient may be replaced with a local soda produced from potash in the future and further testing is necessary.
The team tested citronella production methods that used citrus rind from orange and lemon as well as lemongrass using hot water extraction. This proved to be rather difficult as it was not possible to easily decant the resulting citronella oil from the water. The team decided that using bruised orange peel and lemongrass would be easier to accomplish in the rural setting and applied this technique to an existing recipe for jatropha oil soap (The Jatropha Manual: A Guide to the Integrated Exploitation of the Jatropha Plant in Zambia, Reinhard Henning, bagani GbR) to take advantage of jatropha’s repellent qualities. Caustic soda and water were mixed to produce a lye solution that was then mixed with jatropha oil, orange peel, and lemongrass. The resulting mixture was poured into bamboo moulds lined with old plastic bags and left to harden. Jatropha is found in many places in Luapula but is not prevalent and oil production is not widespread. The oil also proved to be so strong in odor that the resulting soap smelled a bit like diesel fuel when combined with orange peel and lemongrass. These factors do not make jatropha oil a good candidate for adoption of this soap in rural communities. The team suggested mixing palm and sunflower oils, found easily in Luapula, for use in soap production in place of jatropha. The workshop did not allow adequate time to test this idea and participants expressed interest in continuing to experiment in their respective communities.
The Appropriate Technology context allows for the kind of grassroots brainstorming, research, and development necessary to create sustainable solutions to the malaria repellent question. Abandoning the “one-size-fits-all” demonstration model in favor of tapping local knowledge, skills, and resources produced a wealth of empirical experience that can be used for future development. The team presented their findings and prototype products at a showcase on the final day of the workshop, leading to dissemination and sharing of knowledge through conversation and practical demonstration from HCN to HCN and PCV to PCV. The flexible and adaptive nature of AT will continue to provide interesting solutions to the malaria prevention question as PCVs and HCNs continue to research, design, and develop their ideas into practical methodology.