Shaping the Sanitation Market with Product Innovations in Ghana

SAMALEX workers constructing a Satopan slab

Over 10 million urban Ghanaians live with unimproved sanitation services or are openly defecating causing a severe public health concern according to WHO/UNICEF. The World Bank estimates that poor sanitation and hygiene in Ghana leads to $290 million in economic losses each year. While businesses are trying to address the sanitation crisis, they face several barriers including lack of high quality and affordable product offerings for consumers, poor access to financing, and insufficient support to manage their business better and more professionally.

By John Sauer and Richard Acheampong Okoampah 

The SATO pan, a plastic toilet pan with a self closing flush mechanism that provides product innovation to Ghanaian consumers is being marketed to sanitation businesses by Total Family Health Organisation (TFHO) and PSI with funding from USAID Supporting International Family Planning Organizations 2 (SIFPO2) Project. The product is manufactured by LIXIL, a global corporation that makes water and housing products.

Mr Samuel Gyaba, CEO of Samalex, holds a Sato Pan while employee works on a concrete slab

One of the entrepreneurs who initially purchased SATO pans was Samuel Gyaba, the CEO of SAMALEX Solutions, a sanitation company that constructs digester toilets. In an interview in March 2019, Samuel discussed the adoption of the innovation, “The flaps I needed for the digester toilets to flush and close could only be manually made and for the last three years I experienced a lot of technical challenges regarding the manual flap. This device could not close well so flies were getting into the toilet and brought discomfort to users.  I tried many means to control the flies but to no avail, and many customers complained. I was losing some customers and that’s when I found the SATO pan and used it to replace the manual flap. The SATO pan miraculously fit perfectly in the installation and closed every space where the flies previously entered the toilet.”

Eight years ago, Samuel started SAMALEX in the community of Pokuase in Greater Accra North Municipality, and it has grown from a few toilets installations a month to a now installing 100 – 200 toilets per month. SAMALEX currently employs 50 full-time staff. During any weekday morning, the shop and production areas are buzzing with the day’s orders being fulfilled.

Samuel attributes part of his recent growth to the introduction of the SATO pan into his digester toilet construction. The SATO pan has enabled him to increase his profit margins, reduce installation time, and address consumer complaints related to smell and flies. As one consumer said, “After Samalex fixed the the SATO pan for me, surprisingly I did not see the flies again.  It worked like magic.

Samuel estimates that using the SATO pan has reduced the cost for the flap product and installation to about $10, and now one installer can do ten or more installations in a day. Previously, SAMALEX was tailor making toilet flap’s. The materials and labor cost around $20 and an entire day for the installer. “I have saved more than twice labour cost and enhanced our speed to do more installations than before. For the last 6 months I have bought more than 1,000 pieces of SATO pans. Due to this I have been able to employ more people to work on my sites to produce more toilets with SATO,” said Samuel.

As Samuel is an early adopter, he is now sharing his success with other sanitation businesses. He has personally introduced SATO pan to five businesses who he claims are equally as happy with the SATO pan benefits. Meanwhile, the sales numbers for SATO pan continue to rise with the products increased exposure; the total TFHO sales from May 2018 through February 2019 was 2,421.

The SATO pan works in both rural and peri-urban areas, as it can be retrofitted on open pit toilets to create a hygenic and easy-to-clean toilet that creates a water seal, thereby eliminating flies and smell. It can also fit in seated toilets. Sanitation entrepreneurs like Samuel are using SATO pans in the construction of digester toilets, a popular toilet solution in Ghanaian cities that uses micro organisms to reduce fecal sludge in situ.

TFHO is now rolling out a rural strategy for SATO pans. As for Samuel, with more support on business processes, like bookkeeping, and access to additional financing, SAMALEX might reach the CEO’s vision of 500 toilets installed each month.