Safe sanitation and solid waste management: Loowatt Madagascar’s evolving partnership with the Antananarivo city authority

Loowatt have developed a waterless and closed-loop sanitation system that offers a superb user experience. Their hygienic and safe toilets capture waste that can then be treated and transformed into other by-products, including energy and fertiliser. In 2015, the GSMA awarded a grant to Loowatt to develop a suite of mobile services to track its waste collection processes, collect payments with mobile money and communicate better with its customers. Later, the GSMA also gave a grant to the Container Based Sanitation Alliance (CBSA), of which Loowatt is a member, to develop an ERP platform that would allow members of the CBSA to digitise their operations. Loowatt Madagascar have long worked in partnership with Société Municipale d’Assainissement (SMA) – the Antananarivo waste management authority – in delivering their solution. However, recently their partnership has expanded in scope and depth, extending services and sharing learnings. We recently caught up with Andry Ratsifehera, Loowatt Madagascar’s Director of Operations, to discuss how and why this partnership has evolved. 

How it started: Safe sanitation for low-income areas

In 2012, Loowatt started a pilot in Madagascar aimed at identifying which sanitation servicing models would best work for their customers. Initially, Loowatt intended to manage the entire sanitation value chain, from containment to reuse, including installing and operating an anaerobic digestor for treating the faecal waste. This form of treatment, where the waste is digested without oxygen, produces two by-products of value: Biogas that can be used to generate electricity and the remaining digested material which becomes a nutrient-rich liquid fertiliser. After a few different iterations, it was found that the safest and most effective option was to use the gas at the treatment site to pasteurise the liquid fertiliser. This allowed for 100% removal of pathogens and thus the sale of a safe fertiliser on the open market.

By 2015, Loowatt had installed 50 household toilets, and from 2016 began to focus more attention on testing the commercial and operational model. This included exploring using SMA’s five anaerobic digestors in Antananarivo, which had been commissioned around the same time as their fertiliser facility. SMA are responsible for both solid and faecal waste in the city and use these digestors to process waste delivered to them. Between 2016 and 2019, SMA and Loowatt tested various operational models and found a workable commercial model that reflected the unit economics of service delivery.

Leveraging the co-benefits: The formalisation of an exceptional partnership to create better services

In 2019, the two parties signed a game-changing 15-year partnership agreement to jointly deliver sanitation services. Under this agreement, SMA gave Loowatt permission to dump faecal waste into SMA’s digestors at no cost, and Loowatt agreed to provide technical support and supervision of the periodic maintenance of these facilities. This allowed more of Antananarivo’s residents to receive Loowatt’s services at an affordable price and ensured the continued safe operation of the city’s treatment facilities. The predictable and homogenous stream of faecal waste from Loowatt’s toilets – compared to pit latrine waste which contains inorganic material such as rubbish and soil – also played a role in ensuring the effective operation and lower cost of maintenance of SMA’s treatment facilities.

Continued evolution: Extending the partnership and sharing learnings 

The model above is based around household toilets being installed with the waste regularly collected and taken to treatment sites. Loowatt have worked hard to keep the monthly fee affordable to customers; 95% of Loowatt’s customers live on household incomes of less than $5.10 per day. 

To offer services to customers wherever they may be in Antananarivo, Loowatt is working with SMA to provide public toilets around the city. This new partnership will start with the installation of 30 public pay-per-use Loowatt toilets (which were donated by Oxfam) serving circa 50,000 people per month. The city will charge between 100 and 200 Ariary per use ($0.23 to $0.46) of these toilets. The partnership is part of a broader vision to provide 300 facilities in urban areas, under the governments Madagasikara Madio 2025 (Clean Madagascar 2025) campaign.The SMA is also looking to learn more about Loowatt’s software solutions to better understand their potential for solid wate operations. Waste management and container-based sanitation value chains require similar elements to be effective – regular (weekly) collection of waste from households by a large ground force, that is later centralised for recycling or safe disposal. As such, the value add of digital solutions is also similar across both sectors. Digital platforms have a place in coordinating services between end users and providers; digitising payments can have significant benefits, both for pay-per-use cases as well as subscription models; and IoT and blockchain have a role in ensuring traceability across these fragmented value chains. Loowatt’s CAST software developed under a GSMA grant has modules for CRM, operations, allows waste to be digitally tracked by scanning QR codes, integrates digital payments, and has GIS functionality.

The GSMA looking ahead: A convergence in sectors and solutions? 

At the GSMA, we were excited to hear about the evolution of Loowatt’s partnerships and operations in Madagascar. We aim to continue to profile and support private sector innovators such as Loowatt in building relevant partnerships that are critical to reach impact at scale. Our Digital Utilities Partnerships Hub provides a single source of information on innovative partnerships between private sector innovators and their role in making utility services in low- and middle-income (LMICs) more affordable, accessible, safe and sustainable. In our recently published toolkit, we highlight the role of start-up-public sector collaboration in the context of the many challenges facing cities in LMICs, provide a conceptual framework of how to position and define these partnerships, and offer practical tips and tools to start-ups navigating the complexity of public sector engagement. 

We also see huge opportunities for learning between the waste management and sanitation sectors. From an enabling technology perspective there is a convergence in where digital adds value. Additionally, many of the challenges in getting the operational models right are similar: How to effectively organise household collections and payments, coordinating and tracking waste across the value chain as it passes between actors, and where value can be extracted in treatment and reuse. As part of our GSMA Innovation Fund for Digital Urban Services we are currently supporting four organisation working in waste management: ReCircle in India, Regenize in South Africa, Freetown Waste Transformers in Sierra Leone, and Soso Care in Nigeria. We firmly expect that learning from across these grants will have relevance to sanitation models. Additionally, another GSMA Innovation Fund alumni, Sanergy has recently evolved into The Sanergy Collaborative. The Collaborative brings together independent organisations working on circular economy approaches. The founding partners, Fresh Life and Regen Organics, currently work across both the sanitation and waste management sectors. The strong links between these two sectors also offer opportunities for mobile operator offers to scale across sectors, and we’ve seen asset tracking applications developed for the transport sector re-purposed to waste management. Given the fertile ground for expansion, it’s likely that Loowatt’s evolving partnership with SMA is one of the first of many such stories we will see in the coming years. If you would like to learn more about Loowatt, its journey, and the crowdfund campaign it will be launching soon, follow them on LinkedIn.

The Digital Utilities programme is funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), and supported by the GSMA and its members.

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