Hardware Seed Support Distorts Market for Slab

by Muthi Nhlema, Programs Director, Water For People

  • Project: Hardware Seed Support, Chikhwawa Program
  • Location: Malawi
  • Sector: Water and Sanitation
  • Professional Designation: NGO

Original story available in the Malawi Country Program 2011 Annual Report.


The failure that has been glaring on the many successes in 2011 has been the Mason Model in our Chikhwawa program, specifically the hardware seed support offered to masons as start-up capital.

The Hardware Seed Support, usually referred to as smart subsidy, was in the form of bags of cement and reinforcement that were given to masons for slab construction. The idea behind this subsidy was to provide the masons with a one-time, input-based startup for their businesses as an initial step to creating sustainable businesses that would re-invest the revenue into purchasing more cement on their own, without reverting to Water For People– Malawi for additional subsidy.

However, this has had the opposite effect. A recent Rapid Market Assessment in December 2011 uncovered that, instead of generating vibrant sanitation businesses, the subsidy created market dependency on Water For People–Malawi rather than self-reliance. Instead creating demand, the subsidy created community resistance towards the slabs as “People knew that masons had received free cements for the slab construction… this made it difficult to sell as it was perceived to be free slabs” – thus making the slab a tough sale.


The result: despite positive results on slabs uptake of 84%, most of the slabs installed were not fully paid for (96%) which threatens the viability of the rural sanitation business model. Moving into 2012, Water For People will engage TEECs to support a re-imagining exercise where the rural business (Mason) model will be reviewed for feasibility and explore options for how best to make the model profitable and, therefore, sustainable.


Select three phrases that describe this failure.

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  1. Jan says:

    I like the idea of trying to boost small local business, but appreciate how it can distort the market.
    In our water projects we have supplied cement and some training to each community but they are jointly responsible for building the bore ring,slab and trough. Some communities have done this by having voluntary “working bees” and others have employed their village youth.

    I would like to hear if any others have had an approach which strengthens community ownership and at the same time reduces dependency on the NGO for providing all materials for each new bore.

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