The business of the honey-suckers in Bengaluru (India) – new IRC publication

A new IRC paper explores some contributions being made by honey-sucker tanker operators — that renders a small-scale sanitation service informally and within the private sector — on waste (faecal) extraction and, in some cases, reuse. Operating outside the legal framework of waste management, this paper provides preliminary insight into the limitations and potentials of the ‘honey-sucker business’ as a sanitation service model, based on selected experiences in Bengaluru (India).

Through semi-structured interviews and the application of Osterwalder and Pigneur’s (2010) business model building blocks tool, this paper reveals that:

  1. a two-sided business model is being employed by the business (benefiting both septic tank/ pit owners and farmers);
  2. positive outcomes of sludge reuse in farms seem to outweigh negative outcomes; and
  3. the honey-sucker business seems to be a financially viable sanitation service model (especially amongst middle-class households with no piped connections).

As an exploratory study, the authors of the paper encourage further research into aspects that interlink with the honey-sucker business to achieve greater clarity on its positive contributions to society, and its prospects of scaling up and replication across different contexts.

Kvarnström, E. et. al., 2012. The business of the honey-suckers in Bengaluru (India): the potentials and limitations of commercial faecal sludge recycling – an explorative study. (Occasional Paper 48) [online] The Hague: IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre. 59 p. : 2 boxes, 2 fig., 5 tab. 39 ref. Available at: <http://www.irc.nl/op48>

Related materials

  • A feature story entitled “Productive sanitation – the honey suckers of Bengaluru”, based on the case study, was published in the July 2012 issue of New Agriculturist at
  • A presentation on the honey-suckers by Vishwanath Srikantaiah is available on Slideshare.
  • IRC’s Joep Verhagen presented the honey-sucker case study during an IRC webinar organised on 2 May 2012. His original presentation is also available on Slideshare.
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