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News Story
27 July 2023
Author: Marta Anguera

Exploring the potential of circular economy for sanitation

Farmer field school on applying sanitized urine and faeces and evaluating crop production. (Photos: WaterAid Burkina Faso).


This is an interview piece with Saidou Savadogo, Programme officer at WaterAid Burkina Faso.





  • What is sustainable sanitation? Are rural areas different from urban areas?

Sustainable sanitation involves managing various types of waste, including wastewater, excreta, and domestic and industrial waste, from storage to collection, transportation, treatment, recovery, and reuse of by-products. The solid by-products can be used as fertilisers in agriculture and produce energy through biogas, while the liquid by-products can save water by using them to water crops. This system prioritises social acceptance, ecological sustainability, and economic viability while protecting public health and water resources. Its goal is to reduce the impact of waste on the environment for both current and future generations.

In Burkina Faso, the way of life and daily activities of people in rural areas are distinct from those in urban areas. In rural areas, a community or household is responsible for all aspects of sustainable sanitation. However, households depend on service providers in urban areas to manage wastewater and excreta in faecal sludge treatment plants.

  • What was the method/steps used to choose the appropriate sanitation solution for Burkina Faso?

The process of selecting a sanitation solution involves several stages. Firstly, (a) an analysis was conducted to understand the community’s needs regarding wastewater and excreta sanitation, living environment, and agricultural production. This included gathering data from previous projects and rural populations to determine their needs and practices. Secondly, (b) regulatory texts, standards, and wastewater and excreta management programmes were studied to determine implementation approaches and technological options to meet community demand. Thirdly, (c) the advantages and disadvantages of each approach and technology were assessed for the rural environment. Fourthly, (d) the adaptability of the Clean and Green framework to the specific context of Burkina Faso was evaluated. Finally, (e) consultation workshops were held with actors in the sanitation, agriculture, and environment sectors to ensure the needs of technical services were met and actions were synergised.

Skilled masons from the village of Dapelgo are building the EcoSan latrine. The construction includes a comfortable cabin and an area for collecting urine. (Photos: WaterAid Burkina Faso).


  • What were the obstacles to achieving equitable and sustainable sanitation in rural areas of Burkina Faso?

In rural areas of Burkina Faso, there are many challenges to achieving fair and sustainable sanitation practices. One major obstacle is the disorganised sanitation market, where local authorities still need to bring together operators to meet community needs successfully. This includes the installation and management of sanitation facilities. Additionally, local private operators are hesitant to get involved due to a lack of knowledge about the potential benefits. While some NGOs are experimenting with solutions, this is only happening on a small scale.
Our constitution recognises sanitation as a human right and a priority in policies and programmes. However, the State budget allocated to sanitation is insufficient, making it difficult to achieve these goals. Rural communes also lack adequate funding for equitable and sustainable sanitation. Local and national authorities must take a more prominent leadership role to improve financial resources and coordination in the sanitation sub-sector.
Additionally, many rural inhabitants are impoverished, resulting in limited financial resources for sanitation infrastructure. As a result, sanitation often takes a backseat as a secondary priority. To address this issue, low-income individuals require financial assistance to construct proper sanitation facilities.
In addition, there is a lack of awareness regarding the significance of sanitation and hygiene practices for people’s health and well-being. Even households that can afford a latrine only sometimes do so due to this lack of knowledge. Additionally, households with latrines do not always use them correctly and do not maintain proper hygiene practices.
Often, rural populations are left out of the planning process for sanitation programmes and decision-making that affects their community at both local and national levels. This exclusion leads to their unique needs being overlooked in these programmes. Gender sensitivity and the realisation of their rights are only occasionally considered.

  • How can the funding gap be closed?

Productive sanitation and proper management of rural waste have numerous benefits that affect various policy sectors, including health, agriculture, and environment. These sectors have more resources than the WaSH sector, making it essential to provide evidence of the benefits of productive sanitation in enhancing household living conditions. It is crucial to advocate for sanitation to secure funding from different sources. Burkina Faso’s EU-funded Ecosan project (2008-2011) is an excellent example that other actors in the sector can build on to develop further initiatives that mobilise funding from the climate change, agriculture, health, and education sectors.

  • What were the critical impacts identified during the implementation of the Clean and Green framework?

Clean and Green framework in villages will have a noticeable impact in the long run. While the initial outcomes are promising, a more comprehensive programme is necessary. This programme should consider all Clean and Green components, including capacity-building and monitoring activities. For instance, acquiring long-term agricultural yield data for fields fertilised with sanitation by-products is crucial for 3 to 5 years of continuous operation.

We’ve identified ten households committed to using sanitation by-products in their fields for the 2023 winter season. These producers have pledged to do so after witnessing the significant yield results compared to mineral fertilisers used in the “school fields.”

Our goal is to promote sustainable sanitation that can withstand any climate conditions. Currently, around fifty households use Ecosan latrines, which effectively treat and recycle waste on-site. This technology is not only eco-friendly but also flood-resistant. We have also installed other types of latrines that are designed to withstand flooding and prevent water pollution.

Farmer field school on applying sanitized urine and faeces and evaluating crop production. (Photos: WaterAid Burkina Faso).

  • What are the expected results of this first Clean and Green pilot project?

The expected results of this first Clean and Green experiment are threefold: The Clean and Green framework will be adapted to the Burkina Faso context with appropriate “clean” and “productive” components, awareness-raising tools for easy implementation, and a monitoring framework to assess progress.
The Clean and Green will be operationalised in three villages to improve health and agricultural productivity in those areas significantly.
The results of the Clean and Green will be shared with authorities and key actors at local, national, and international levels to consider it as an alternative for the health and productive development of villages.

  • What were the attitudes and perceptions of the agricultural use of human excrement?

According to a recent study, human excreta (urine and feaces) are generally perceived as having a higher risk factor and lower agricultural value compared to other waste forms such as animal excreta, ash, sewage, and organic waste. In many communities, these excreta are considered dirty waste that should be hidden and not handled due to their potential to cause disease and public health problems. Although culturally, people in these communities do not handle excreta; they believe babies’ faeces are safe. Initially, these communities hesitated to use excreta in agricultural production due to the handling phase, which is understandable given the negative message they received about the potential health risks. Our goal is to recognise both the risks (pathogens) and resources in human excreta, and determine how to use these excreta safely to reduce the risks and derive maximum benefit.

  • How does the framework prevent the exposure of faecal matter to humans (faecal contamination – transmission of infectious diseases)?

The Clean and Green framework considers the health and environmental risks of faecal matter exposure. The Community-led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach was used to end open defecation in pilot villages. This helped raise community awareness about the dangers of poor faecal management. As a result, households built and used latrines and adopted hand-washing practices to prevent contamination. Additionally, sanitation by-products can be reused after being hygienised in line with WHO standards and guidelines. Households or community members do not handle fresh faecal matter during the recycling process. Instead, it is stored in latrine pits where contaminants are removed to ensure hygiene.

  • Why don’t countries do more to improve sanitation services, particularly in rural areas?

Sanitation is an important policy priority, but many developing countries allocate a low budget. National policy documents require households to finance on-site sanitation. Politicians often prioritise visible dividends such as health, education, drinking water, and roads for their electorate, neglecting the importance of sanitation as a preventive measure for public health. It is important to keep advocating for compliance with sub-regional commitments, including Burkina Faso’s pledge to allocate a portion of its national budget to the sanitation sector and secure external funding. We also need to continue raising awareness to strengthen information on the link between sanitation (particularly resource recovery) and agricultural productivity at household and rural community levels.

  • How scalable is the project?

We’ve completed the clean component and are making progress on production. We have tested various tools, but still need to test the monitoring and evaluation component for village certification. This year, we will monitor households replicating the “school fields” experiment by using sanitation by-products, specifically hygienised urine, in their production. In collaboration with SEI and WaterAid, we are conducting research with INERA in Burkina Faso on three themes, including the social and economic aspects that could encourage the use of all sanitation by-products generated in households as compost or liquid fertiliser. We plan to create technical fact sheets based on the findings from these studies and share them with industry players. Since Clean and Green  framework is a novel approach, it is crucial to continue the field experiment to refine the approach and obtain impact results. Having evidence of impact is essential to justify scaling up.

  • Could the safe reuse of human excrement be an opportunity to overcome the fertiliser crisis?

There is a fertiliser crisis due to the rise in the price of synthetic mineral fertilisers caused by the Ukrainian crisis. This has made them unaffordable for many people. However, sanitation by-products like hygienised urine and faeces can be a sustainable alternative to overcome this crisis. These by-products are part of a circular approach and are abundantly available. The potential of human excreta as fertilisers is significant. In Burkina Faso, the annual amount of N, P, and K in the urine and faeces of an average person corresponds to about 15 kg of chemical fertilisers. This means that a household of 6-9 people can have 90-135 kg of fertiliser equivalent per year, which is the same amount that households usually buy on the market. Unfortunately, the public and decision-makers are not aware of these facts. Therefore, we need to continue lobbying to enforce existing policies and strategies, as well as national and international commitments.

Cliquez ici pour lire l’article en français.
Read here the interview in French.

These interviews are part of SIANI’s ‘Tune in to Food Systems’ interview series composed of monthly interview articles with experts across fields dedicated to sustainable food systems.