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How poor installation created new businesses opportunities

Published on: 25/06/2019

Sparking growth in the sanitation market in Ethiopia has proven to be quite a roller coaster ride, full of twists, turns, and surprises.

What we thought would be an easy formula for getting started — launching inexpensive, plastic, self-sealing toilet pans and plastic latrine slabs in the market through small construction businesses — required more adaptation and innovation than expected. And good evidence.

Here's how we conceived of this initially. We quickly identified low-hanging fruit in the market to be the thousands of unimproved latrines across the country without hole covers. If USAID Transform WASH could introduce an affordable way of getting open pits covered, thus reducing the awful smell and the numerous flies going in and out of the toilets, we could make quick progress toward expanding the sanitation product and service market. For existing toilets with cement slabs, the SATO pan, manufactured by Lixil Corporation, could be just the ticket to a cheap solution. At a consumer price of 150 Ethiopian birr (about US $5.00), this self-sealing plastic pan could affordably upgrade these latrines to 'basic,' previously known as improved, status.

What we didn't foresee is that a number of households would buy SATO pans directly from retailers or sales agents and try to install them on their own without proper instructions or know-how. In an action research study that we conducted in SNNP region, we identified several problems with installation. The first key finding was that from 120 households surveyed, only 90 had actually installed the SATO pan some 6 months after purchasing them. Households cited issues to do with their pits being full, or waiting to construct a new one, and others claimed the SATO pan could not be retrofitted to their existing latrine.

Of the 90 who had installed the product, the response was overwhelmingly positive, citing reduced smell and flies as the key benefits. And on affordability, 88% said it was either cheap or affordable. This supports findings from UNICEF's user acceptance study that there's big demand in Ethiopia. But very few households were getting it installed correctly within a concrete slab and opted instead to self-install with relatively poor quality within mud on wooden platforms. This was not surprising since a concrete slab costs an additional 450 birr (three times the price of the SATO pan) and, weighing over 100kg, it's difficult to transport. Actually, installation in these rudimentary latrines is not necessarily a problem since the SDGs don't specify what a slab or platform needs to be made of to qualify as 'basic,' but the platform does need to be cleanable (these latrines are the reason open defecation in Ethiopia has dropped from 90% to 29% since 2000, but basic sanitation status hovers at just 6%).

So how to use the market to address these quality issues? One solution is to design a SATO pan already embedded within a larger plastic slab and/or with foot rests, products that Lixil has designed and will be available once manufacturing has started. But our business partners helped us innovate and come up with local solutions, as well. These solutions are new product packages that have expanded business models to smaller scale entrepreneurs, who can address the large installed base of unimproved latrines. Consumers who aren't ready to make major new sanitation investments, but who are willing to put some hard-earned money toward lower cost upgrades, now have a range of low-cost options to consider:

• Cement skirting installed around SATO pans
• Pre-cast mini-slabs with embedded SATO pans
• Retrofitting of existing cement platforms to insert SATO pans

These options require significantly fewer construction materials, including reinforcement bar, which is made of increasingly expensive imported iron. They can be installed on-site or, in the case of pre-cast SATOs, require little space to produce in large numbers. These products involve low transportation costs and are a perfect fit for budding masons who want to launch new businesses.

So far, Transform WASH business advisors have trained 233 business partners in the technical skills that they'll need to add these products to their portfolios (or to start fresh with door-to-door installation services). We are also training local vocational college instructors on the range of product options and installation techniques so they can pass these skills onto an even larger group of students or soon-to-be entrepreneurs.

 

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