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"People used to make fun of me saying, 'Do you really expect us to pay 350 birr for this toy you molded while we can get it for free?'" says Tesfaye Lemanche, Chair of Data Concrete Slab production Association.
They don't make fun any more. About 3,600 families in East Badowacho have so far purchased concrete slabs that help create improved latrines that meet national standards.
It is part of a process of change that is beginning to transform the way that people in rural areas think about sanitation.
A significant numbers of households had gained access to self-constructed basic latrines through Community Led Total Sanitation and Hygiene (CLTSH). However, most self-constructed latrines fall short of fulfilling the minimum standards set by the Government of Ethiopia (GoE) to ensure sustained change in sanitation and hygiene facilities and meet global commitments.
The GoE put National Sanitation Marketing Guidelines in place to direct the process of developing appropriate business models, establishing a private sector to take up sanitation as a business and winning the involvement and commitment of local authorities to create the enabling environment.
East Badowacho woreda of SNNPR is one of the places that has shown commendable effort towards achieving improved sanitation.
What is interesting about the East Badowacho experience is that the idea of producing an improved latrine slab came from one community member called Guta, who took the initiative to carve slabs from natural stone after an outbreak of acute watery diarrhoea (AWD) in 2006. Guta was later joined by fourteen other members of the community in producing the stone slabs that helped to prevent the spread of the disease and he became popular in his community.
Tamirat Demissie, head of the Woreda Health Office heard about Guta's initiative and went to his place to visit. The woreda decided to support Guta and his team, who later formed an association called Muchuroma, meaning 'cleanliness'. The woreda provided the group with a donkey cart for transporting the heavy stone slabs, and people in the surrounding area started buying the slabs.
In 2016, UNICEF in collaboration with the Woreda Health Office trained members of Muchuroma and others in producing improved moulded concrete slabs and organized groups to form associations. UNICEF also provided donkey carts, sand and cement. Later in 2016, iDE joined the effort, providing in depth training in promoting and selling slabs as well as producing them. In all 31 people were trained forming three associations and one private business.
This is where marketing as a vital component really began. Twenty sales agents from six different kebeles were trained to promote and sell the slabs on commission basis.
The Woreda Heath Office reports that there are now five associations and one concrete slab private business which so far have sold a total of about 3,600 slabs, increasing improved latrine coverage of the woreda from 1.4% in 2016 to 8% in 2018.
Tesfaye Lemanche is Chair of Data Slab Production Association, which has sold 2,289 of these 3,600 slabs in two years. Success was not always obvious. Sales were very low when they began in 2016. Tesfaye said, "We only sold 25 slabs in one year and we were devastated. The community didn't understand the importance of improved slabs and they were used to free hand outs."
What turned it around was marketing the idea of safe sanitation. The sales agents explain to households the harm of not having an improved latrine and the health benefits of having one. They explain how dirty latrines can cause diseases and how flies can contaminate their food. They create demand for the slabs by explaining how they can prevent faecal contamination.
Households pay 30% (100 birr) upfront and pay the remaining amount 250 birr on receipt of the product. Of this sum 30 birr commission goes to the sales agent.
Data Slab Production make circular and rectangular slabs. Most households prefer the circular slab as it can be carried only by two people. Tesfaye says, "The circular slab is easier to transport, you can get it to your house by rolling it as a wheel so people prefer that."
The Woreda Health Office has seen the positive results in increased latrine coverage and in the creation of jobs.
However, there are also some challenges. Tamirat said, "We are facing difficulties to get people to buy a 350 birr slab because some can't afford it and some don't believe it's worth buying. And we are faced with an even bigger problem now because the price of construction materials especially the iron bar has almost doubled, which in turn will increase the price of the slab."
The existence of hidden subsidies in the form of donations of materials from development partners and the Health Office is well meant but does not help develop sustainable businesses and is against Government policy.
The woreda is trying to facilitate loans from Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) to work alongside Micro and Small Enterprise Development Agencies (MSEDAs), and Technical and Vocational Education and Trainings (TVETs) as the marketing guideline sets out. However, the involvement of MFIs continues to be problematic and a major effort is needed to involve them in meeting these financial challenges.
Tamirat Demissie, East Badowacho Woreda Health Office Head and Tesfaye Lemanche, Chair of Data Concrete Slab production Association were invited to the National Sanitation Marketing MSP meeting to share their best practice. See also experiences from Tigray and Benishangul.
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