Premium Organic Soaps- Contribution to the Community
Anushruti Singh January 9, 2020
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Cleopatra, the last pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, was admired for her brilliant skin and her dazzling magnificence. Her secret to flawless beauty was the shower that she used to take with the milk of donkeys. The name of Poppaea Sabina, the second wife of the emperor of Nero, also requires mention here for her habit of washing her face numerous times every day with the milk of donkeys to evade wrinkles and rejuvenate her fair complexion.. It is fascinating to note that although donkeys are still not among the privileged animals of India, their milk has miraculous power to make one look more youthful and history stands as a witness to it.
In present times, when consumers are more aware and keen to return to the natural ways. They have started recognizing and exploring the benefits of donkey milk as a constituent for beauty and food products. These days, the oldest domesticated animals are being promoted for their milk which possesses a number of therapeutic and nutraceutical properties. This global trend has spread roots into India as well where many entrepreneurs are producing innovative products from donkey milk.
However, in India, it is mostly being used in the cosmetics industry. Among such social entrepreneurs who are exploring to create a market of donkey milk is one Delhi based company named Organiko, which is converting donkeys into real ‘ass’-ets for the domestic herders. Organiko is a social enterprise that is lending a helping hand by creating a livelihood for donkey owners by utilizing their existing untapped resource, that is, donkeys milk to make natural skincare products.
According to Pooja Kaul, a start up founder, this unique concept of donkey milk soaps is receiving greater attention gradually. When asked how she got the idea she says, “I always wanted to do work related to dairy sector, and during my master days in Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), we required to do something innovative. Thus I came across one article about Swiss dairy farm company doing work in this field. Also during our field work visitation in different regions of the country I noticed communities of poor donkey herders. This all together impacted me a lot and I decided to connect both and that’s how Organiko came to fruition.”
Why Donkey milk?
The first response to the idea of donkey milk soap is always combined with hesitation because it is unusual for people to imagine donkey as useful for any purpose other than carrying load. Research reveals that the milk of donkey, when compared with the milk of any other non-bovine animal, is closest to human milk and shares a lot of its nutritional qualities.
It also possesses higher amount of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids compared to cow’s milk and is full of anti-ageing properties, skin nourishment components and healing properties. That was one of the reasons behind making of the Organiko’s soap. Explaining the inspiration behind the product, Kaul says, “It is believed that Donkey milk contains antibacterial components that can help you fight acne, skin infection, and sometimes eczema.”
In a research paper published by National Dairy Research Institute, the author talks about the skin treating properties of donkey’s milk. It states, “Donkey milk contains anti-bacterial enzymes and anti-allergens, which are suitable for persons with sensitive skin, eczema, acne, and allergies. In addition, it has high levels of vitamins and minerals, especially, retinol, which is a huge factor in fighting wrinkles. Retinol aids in accelerating collagen production and is recommended for preventing early signs of ageing.”
These properties make it a very special ingredient in cosmetic products. Several European and US skincare companies are already using it as an ingredient on a wide scale. Skincare products such as soaps, creams, cosmetics and moisturizers made with donkey’s milk are well perceived in beauty markets, however, the products are positioned as premium, as the cost of the soap ranges between £5 and £10 for a 100g bar.
The European market has the widest range of donkey milk personal care products with France dominating the market in product development. Additionally, Asian market has seen a functioning hike sought after, especially after Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and China are said to support it as an effective component for anti-ageing products. Also, there is rising demand in Countries including Russia and Europe have shown a rise in the demand for this miraculous entity. To sum up, the market potential is immense for donkey’s milk, but for now, it is an uncommon and highly specialized commodity.
Indian market is also gradually warming up to this luxury item. According to Kaul, Donkey Milk products are not a much explored field in India but it is a proved remedy for all age groups and skin types as it has high levels of proteins, phospholipids and ceramides which help to regenerate skin.
“Donkey milk is equivalent to breast milk and despite having so many properties is still is an untapped resource in India. Though in some regions this milk is used as food resource and as medicine (in whooping cough and several allergies) as well, but still people at large are unaware of its power. I believe donkey milk is white gold and we can create a useful commodity out of it, especially in the skincare sector.”
Currently Kaul’s firm is manufacturing two variants of donkey milk soaps and encouraged by the overwhelming response of consumers, her company is soon going to launch a number of skincare range including more soaps, creams, face packs,masks, moisturizers, hair oil and milk powder. Kaul claims, “People today are very much aware of what’s going on in the market and are coming back to traditional and natural ways of skincare products. Looking at the product innovation, the donkey milk soap is very new in the market. And I am happy to say that market response is extremely positive towards it.”She also adds that so far they have got constructive feedbacks from the consumers who have used Organiko soap and they are seeing the difference.
Empowering Environment and a Community
The company claims that they are at an advantage in the cosmetic industry in India as they are among the first few to understand the potential and miracles that donkey milk beholds. Besides introducing natural skincare donkey’s milk products in Indian market, this startup’s objective is to increase the life expectancy of donkeys to 20-25 years instead of 6-8 years. Secondly, they intend to empower poor herder communities by generating a fixed income for donkey owners.
Kaul also declares, “Organiko doesn’t just provide natural skin care products to its customers but is also improving the rural economy by uplifting donkey owners. There are about 3.4 billion of donkeys in India, and one liter of donkey milk can cost more than ₹ 2000. This could eliminate the problem of seasonal employment for the communities.”
Even in the present times, animals are the only source of livlihood for numerous families in India. However, the animals suffer from poor husbandry due to which their population is dwindling. According to 2012 livestock census, the total donkey population in the country had decreased by 27.22 per cent over the previous census and the total number of donkeys in the country in the same year was 0.32 million. The lack of resources is one of the major reasons for the inability of livestock owners to improve the living conditions of their animals.
As a social enterprise, Organiko is trying to create a positive impact on local communities as well as save the donkey population, which has declined by almost 28 per cent after last census in India. Organiko started its pilot project from Usmanabad with Lashkar community which is a migratory tribe from Andhra Pradesh and today it is working in various regions including Solapur, Delhi-NCR and Uttar Pradesh with around 30 families of donkey owners. “Donkey owners do not know what treasure they are reaping, we are just doing our share to make their lives better and easier. We’ve utilized this opportunity to enhance the lives of donkey owners and wish to implement our project in rural as well as urban parts of Uttar Pradesh as it is one of the states having maximum population of donkeys, but even that number is decreasing slowly.” says Kaul. As a social enterprise, Organiko claims to make sure that animals are not being exploited and to ensure that they collaborate with NGOs and organize camps from time to time. “We derive milk from each donkey on every alternative day and have fixed the mark of 200-350 ml per donkey only to ensure proper nutrition for their babies.” informs Kaul.
Soaps by Kaul have created awareness among the donkey herders and they are coming forward to join the startup. These herders have seasonal employment and usually migrate every year. Most of the donkey owners are either nomadic people or lower class people who usually work at construction sites and brick kilns. Selling donkey milk has enabled them to take good care of their pet animals since they have become assets in turn restoring donkeys’ original life expectancy from 6-8 years to 25-30 years.
Another change that Organiko has brought is socio-economic difference. The owners who were merely earning ₹ 200-300 a day, now earn somewhere between ₹ 800-1000 a day at the rate of ₹ 2000 per litre of donkey milk which enables them to provide for their family and educate their children. “This is also encouraging women participation in generating income, we have noticed that in a few communities males work on the fields with male donkeys whereas the women take responsibility of female donkeys at home for milking. In this way, the women contribute to their household income. This is definitely a point to notice. They are generating income from both the sides.” says Kaul.
Like any other startup, organic soap making, that too from donkey milk, is a bit stifling. Donkey milk is a premium category product and a bit expensive too; while its shelf life is also limited i.e., 6 to 8 hours. The manufacturing thus is a bit overwhelming process and needs proper supervision. The daily supply too depends upon the demand in the market. Although it is gradually increasing, the least that Organiko buys is 8-9 litres per day according to Kaul. She further adds that the starting of the project was quite laborious; donkey herders were also a bit skeptical due to which it was hard to get them overboard.
Soaps made by Organiko can be bought online, where they are available at ₹ 499 for a 100 gm bar. “The demand for our products is highest in southern states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. People there are more aware of the benefits of donkey milk because they consume it regularly.” she informs.
Kaul’s social enterprise is just a stepping stone for the donkey milk based products in Indian skincare sector. Along with this, it is providing seasonal employment opportunities, eradicating unemployment, reducing migration for low wage earners.. So far, the donkey milk products sector is a niche and has just started expanding in India. Does this mean that it will be included in our food soon? Perhaps! However people have just started adopting this unique idea of using donkey milk in their daily lives and it will make its place in the common household gradually.