Blog 3 of 3: Accelerating improved sanitation in Africa through market based approaches

19 March 2019

Last November UNICEF’s West and Central Africa Regional Office, Supply Division and WASH Programme Division convened a regional sanitation industry consultation in Abuja, Nigeria. The consultation brought together 100+ representatives from industry, financial institutions, governments and development partners. This series of three blogs is based on the discussions held on market shaping – including the current thinking, how it can increase uptake of improved sanitation facilities amongst the poorest households, and how it is being considered at the country level.

This is the final blog in the series, which is being released after AfricaSan 5 where the African sanitation community came together to assess progress against the Ngor commitments on Sanitation and Hygiene. Learning gained from the side-session on Market-based Rural Sanitation held on February 22nd also shapes this final blog.


Blog one in this series was about the opportunities for market shaping in West and Central Africa and blog two shared the experience of the SHAWN project in Nigeria. This third blog looks at how market based sanitation (MBS) might be a means to accelerate the scale of improved sanitation uptake in Africa including amongst the poorest and most marginalised households and communities. It draws upon both the regional sanitation industry consultation (see report here) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UNICEF and USAID side-session on market based rural sanitation held as part of AfricaSan5.

Recent reports have highlighted that neither MBS nor CLTS or other behaviour change approaches alone will be adequate for everyone, everywhere, all of the time (1, 2 and 3). It is increasingly recognised by practitioners that being effective calls for context-specific policies and practices that are less rigid or dogmatic about what approaches are used (4, 5 and 6). Interventions need to be flexible and adaptable and be designed with the priorities of target groups, including the products and services that they want, at the forefront. Furthermore, approaches need to be responsive to context and different stages of a programme both of which should inform decision-making (6).

Conducive contexts for MBS

With this in mind, which contexts are most conducive for MBS? Where and how can it be made more effective? Under what conditions are we most likely to find scenarios where the poorest and most vulnerable are climbing the sanitation ladder? And where is the market creating opportunities for people as consumers, entrepreneurs, and artisans?

A WaterAid-Plan-UNICEF joint rural sanitation guidance document (see document here) shared in Abuja and at AfricaSan5 recommends beginning with an analysis of the current sanitation situation, economic and social contexts, the physical environment and the enabling environment. Such an analysis forms the basis to determine what approaches will be appropriate for increasing basic sanitation in that particular context.

Factors include:

Sanitation context: Areas with high levels of unimproved sanitation may be more appropriate for market-based interventions addressing supply chain issue. See, for example, the SHAWN programme in Nigeria (blog two in this series) which focuses on getting people to climb the sanitation ladder rather than focusing purely on areas with high levels of open defecation. Similarly, contexts may also be suitable where on-site sanitation systems are feasible and environmental conditions do not require expensive or complex technologies (7).

Accessibility of affordable products and services: MBS becomes easier to implement, at least to begin with, in areas where access to markets and services currently exist such as in villages closer to rural centres. In remote rural areas where the transportation of goods is challenging and expensive and affordability remains a barrier to the majority of the population MBS may be harder and more work will be required on developing affordable products. Similarly, it is more feasible to begin delivering sanitation through the market where supply chains, materials, and skills for sanitation products exist, even if they are not well-connected to each other, as this forms the basis for MBS.

This includes access to financial services as well as products. The SHAWN programme in Nigeria involved community savings and credit groups, loans from micro-finance institutions, state sanitation revolving funds and trade by barter – highlighting that like toilet products, financial products need to be varied to meet people’s needs.

Community and household context: Communities that are larger and denser tend to be more favourable for MBS success as they provide a bigger market to both the supply and demand side. Households that have some evidence of cash income and expenses – like cement or brick construction materials for their homes and consumer durables like televisions and batteries – and have stable residence and land tenure tend to be more favourable conditions (7).

Enabling Environment: When government policies encourage household investment in individual household latrines and discourage free hardware (except in cases of extreme poverty), MBS programmes are more likely to succeed. MBS alongside government campaigns for total sanitation coverage can be especially effective, when other enabling conditions are met. Lastly, at the wider level, an overall supportive business environment in the country – for instance, with policies that support local enterprise development, access to small business finance, and enabling regulations for imports – lays the groundwork for a successful sanitation market (7).

Key learnings

  • It takes time and a system-wide investment. Support to sanitation markets must be seen as a long-term, system-wide investment in order to achieve scale. The USAID review showed that the MBS interventions that reached scale required 4-7 years, and must be comprehensive; addressing one component of the market without considering barriers in other areas can prevent scale (2). Future efforts to test MBS sanitation should be focused on how to make this go faster. Recent learning from USAID programmes in Ethiopia and Senegal show how important a desirable and affordable product is to get the market moving.


  • Success should be judged in people and the sustainability of the system, not toilets. How do we judge the success of MBS? Scale is important, but cannot come at the expense of quality and equity. Recent WHO Guidelines on Sanitation and Health have stressed that community-wide outcomes are needed to achieve maximum health benefits (8). The sanitation field has moved beyond defining success as the numbers of toilets sold, and this should equally apply to MBS programmes. We must move towards also monitoring whether people are gaining basic sanitation services and how this is contributing to area-wide outcomes – where everyone in an administrative unit is reached. We must also monitor equity of programmes – not only whether sanitation products and services are reaching all wealth quintiles – but also who is participating in the market system. For example, are women, persons living with disabilities, or people from historically marginalised groups represented as toilet business owners who are earning income, or as unpaid volunteer sales agents? Additionally, an increasing number of practitioners are interested in the ability of local markets to function without support from development partners as an indicator of success.


  • Rapid Action Learning. Monitoring, learning and sharing (successes and failures) at the national, sub-national and village level to ensure interventions are reaching intended households and outcomes are sustained should be coupled with fast, cost-effective and more actionable learning activities. Monitoring and learning can include non-traditional partners, like industry, to examine social inclusion and sustainability as noted in the point above.


  • The S-word MBS approaches as they are being delivered require financial contributions for toilet construction from households. In order to reach marginalised and unserved people we must make the costs sufficiently low enough and/or offer ‘smart’ external support mechanisms to ensure community-wide outcomes.


With 11 years to go before the end of the SDGs, serious interim actions are needed to greatly improve the impact of market-based approaches as well as strengthen and develop different approaches. This can be to work with communities to strengthen non-market technical support, such as identifying, strengthening and promoting local solutions where the market is not strong enough to deliver sanitation goods and services. For example in Ghana where 4,000 technical volunteers have been trained in local specific building techniques and supported 6,000 households to date.

This blog series has highlighted the tremendous challenge ahead and the role market based approaches can play. It is hoped that some of the ideas presented in the series can be used to strengthen current programmes, support the development of new approaches and move thinking forward. We welcome comments, ideas and suggestions, please contact us at: [email protected]

This blog post was written by Jamie Myers (Institute of Development Studies) and Brooke Yamakoshi (WASH Programme Vision, UNICEF) and reviewed by John Sauer (PSI) and Elaine Mercer (Institute of Development Studies).


1. USAID (2018) An Examination of CLTS’s Contributions toward Universal Sanitation, Washington, DC.: USAID Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Partnerships and Sustainability (WASHPaLS) Project,

2. USAID (2018) Scaling market-based sanitation. Desk Review on Market-Based Rural Sanitation Development Programs. Washington, DC: USAID Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Partnerships and Learning for Sustainability (WASHPaLS),

3. Myers, J. and Gnilo, M. (2017) ‘˜Supporting the Poorest and Most Vulnerable in CLTS Programmes’, CLTS Knowledge Hub learning Paper, Brighton: IDS, 

4. IDS (2018) ‘˜West and Central Africa Regional Rural Sanitation Workshop’ CLTS Knowledge Hub Learning Brief 5, Brighton: IDS,

5. WaterAid, Plan and UNICEF (2019) Guidance on Programming for Rural Sanitation,

6. Venkataramanan, V., Hueso, A., Yamakoshi, B., Stricker, J., Gnilo, M. and Coultas, M. (2017) Rethinking Rural Sanitation Approaches, Discussion Brief, The Water Institute at UNC, WaterAid, UNICEF and Plan,

7. UNICEF (2013) Sanitation Marketing Learning Series: Guidance note 1: How do I know if SanMark will work in my country?,  Available internally for UNICEF staff at: https:// unicef. and%20Hygiene/forms/AllItems.aspx

8. WHO (2018) Guidelines on sanitation and health, Geneva: World Health Organization,