Understanding the Indian rural sanitation market

How stakeholders should work together to end open defecation.


Toilet block in Odisha, India. Photo: Andrea van der Kerk/IRC

Solving rural sanitation problems in India requires the involvement of multiple stakeholders. These include government, programme implementers, financing institutions, entrepreneurs and households. Understanding the roles, strengths and weaknesses of each stakeholder, how they interact and complement each other, is key to achieving India’s ambitious goal of ending open defecation by 2019.

As a follow-up to the Sanitation Innovation Accelerator, IRC, Ennovent and Ecociate Consultants commissioned a study to gain insights in the sanitation market in Bihar and Odisha, two states with relatively low levels of sanitation coverage: 29% and 43% respectively. The study was conducted over a period of 3 months (from January to March 2017) in two rural districts: one with a high population density and situated in a heavy clay silt agricultural plain (Samastipur district, Bihar) and the other with a low population density situated in a sandy tropical coast (Ganjam district, Odisha).


Source: Tejas, A., 2017. Sanitation market study : challenges & opportunities to create high impact sanitation interventions : Samastipur Dist, Bihar [and] Ganjam Dist, Odisha : Jan Mar 2017, The Hague, The Netherlands: IRC, Ennovent and Ecociate Consultants

The study came up with the following recommendations for each of the stakeholders in the rural sanitation stakeholder ecosystem:

  • Government Bodies (Enablers)

They need to go beyond simplistic solutions. Facilitated knowledge exchanges between government bodies and the other sanitation ecosystem stakeholders can help governments understand the key factors that prevent rural households from adopting sanitation solutions.

  • Sanitation Programmes (Aggregators)

They must solve important customer pain points and thereby increase demand for sanitation solutions. Programmes need to start differentiating between the existing market demand (customers that would anyway have invested in sanitation irrespective of the programme) vs the new demand a programme creates by solving a customer pain point.

Sanitation programmes also need to look at the range of interdependent problems that affects adoption of sanitation solutions. For example: if water is a problem in a particular area this needs to be addressed simultaneously with sanitation.

  • Financing Institutions (Supporters)

They need to pro-actively collaborate with sanitation programmes to infuse more capital into the sanitation ecosystem. Sanitation programmes should also look at how they can leverage their on-the-ground presence to lower repayment risks and collection costs for financing institutions. More nimble, business-oriented institutions such as micro-finance institutions (MFIs) and Small Finance Banks can do the pioneering work before it becomes attractive for larger banks to step into the market.

  • Sanitation Micro-entrepreneurs (Implementers)

Sanitation micro-entrepreneurs need to understand the needs of financing institutions if they want to access working capital loans at attractive rates. Micro-businesses also need a set of simple accounting tools to better plan their cash flows. Financing institutions also need to simplify lending procedures to better serve small businesses.

Sanitation programmes working with micro-entrepreneurs need to increase customer demand. While sanitation entrepreneurs are in tune with market peak and low demand seasons, none of the other sanitation stakeholders share this insight. Experimenting with ways to leverage these naturally occurring peaks and lows might offer us key insights on how to improve sanitation outcomes.

  • Rural Households (Customers)

They first need to solve a set of sanitation-related problems before they can invest in a sanitation solution. The sanitation ecosystem should include funding, designing and implementing interventions that address these unique customer pain points, within the limited disposable incomes and timelines available to low-income rural households in India. The customers have different pain points and need a range of sanitation solutions that address them.

Tejas, A., 2017. Sanitation market study : challenges & opportunities to create high impact sanitation interventions : Samastipur Dist, Bihar [and] Ganjam Dist, Odisha : Jan Mar 2017, The Hague, The Netherlands: IRC, Ennovent and Ecociate Consultants . Available at: www.ircwash.org/sites/default/files/sanitation_market_study_report_final_2.pdf

See also: Anupama Sahay, Rural sanitation innovation in India: what next?, 18 Nov 2016

To learn about IRC’s work on sanitation marketing in Ethiopia visit the USAID Transform WASH project page.

This news item was originally published on the IRC website, 7 Dec 2017

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