In rural Burkina Faso, demand is high for wells that provide sufficient water for domestic and productive purposes. With assistance from Winrock International, well owners are investing in upgrades that will improve the quality, reliability, and quantity of their water supply. Through their investigation of the drivers that motivate households to invest, JHU researchers uncovered the unexpected role that women’s entrepreneurship plays in spurring demand for enhanced wells.
Not long ago, Madame Celine* had to meet all of her family’s needs bucket-by-bucket, drawing water from a shallow unprotected well. The water’s quality was poor, and in the dry season the well would often go dry. At these times she would be forced to go to the public handpump, 1 kilometer away, to wait in long lines with dozens of other villagers whose own wells had gone dry. During these dry months, Celine would only be able to fetch enough water for the most basic of domestic needs, such as drinking and cooking.
Then Celine learned that one of her neighbors had improved his own well by deepening it, reinforcing the walls, capping it with concrete, and lastly, fitting it with a rope pump. His newly improved well provided higher quality water and the yield was sufficient for meeting all of his family’s needs year round, including irrigation of his family’s 1 hectare vegetable garden in the dry season.
Celine’s neighbor had improved his well with assistance from Winrock International, a Washington D.C.-based development organization that is working in Burkina Faso through USAID’s West African Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WA-WASH) program. Winrock aims to improve rural livelihoods by providing “multiple-use water services” (MUS) that support both domestic and productive activities at or near the home. This integrated approach is unique, since the typical rural water planning model tends to design systems to support domestic or productive activities separately.
“The problem with the old approach is that households will often re-purpose water to meet their various needs,” says Mary Renwick, a Senior Program Officer at Winrock International and the architect of the USAID WA-WASH program’s water agenda. In a presentation to water sector professionals in Morogoro, Tanzania, she demonstrates that such sights are common. Photos show a child collecting drinking water from a non-potable irrigation canal and livestock being brought to community handpumps that were originally installed for drinking and cooking purposes. Renwick explains that such unintended uses of water sources may expose households to high levels of contamination or put excessive pressure on the infrastructure.
Generating demand for multiple-use water services
Winrock’s MUS framework emphasizes design solutions for meeting the range of water users’ needs. In Burkina Faso, traditional wells are dug to support productive activities such as vegetable gardening, livestock rearing, and dolo brewing (a traditional fermented beverage made with millet). Winrock offers to improve the reliability and quality of these wells by deepening them with hand augers, supporting the fragile sandy walls with concrete rings, and capping the well with a concrete slap and rope pump. Additionally, a trough for watering livestock may be installed nearby, or the well may be connected to an elevated tank feeding a drip irrigation system. Design options are flexible and based on households’ needs for water.
The opportunity to upgrade traditional wells is advertised through live demonstrations within communities. During a demonstration a new well is unveiled, the construction process is explained, and the benefits of upgrading are discussed among community members. Winrock staff also explain the cost sharing arrangement: households must identify the traditional well they wish to upgrade on their land, contribute about one third of the total cost of drilling and construction (about US$200) and aggregate for concrete, and Winrock will cover the remaining costs and provide technical expertise.
Like Celine, some households miss the demonstration in their community but hear about the project through friends. “After seeing my neighbor’s new well I informed my husband. I pushed him to consider making the investment; I thought the opportunity might not be available for long,” she explains.
Stories like Celine’s led the Winrock team to believe that their demonstrations were indeed effective tools for generating demand for improved water supplies in rural communities. Yet many questions remained about how demonstrations and other marketing approaches should be delivered for maximum impact. For example, who is most likely to invest in an upgraded well? Are motivations for improving one’s water supply different among men and women? In Burkina Faso where households are often situated amongst relatives within a concession, how is the decision to upgrade a shared well ultimately reached? Through a partnership with Johns Hopkins University (JHU) researchers, these questions are being investigated using innovative and evidence-based research techniques.
Women’s entrepreneurship and water
We travelled to Burkina Faso in July to learn more about Winrock’s project and devise strategies for investigating households’ motivations for investing. Working closely with Winrock’s community mobilizers, we launched a survey that measures households’ uses of water, plans for future investments, and modes of decision-making.
The early results from this study yield important clues about the dynamics of decision-making about water among family member in this setting. For example, the survey data shows that households who invest are wealthier on average, but wealth alone does not explain who is likely to invest in an upgraded well. Among a sub-set of homes, including Celine’s, the presence of a shea butter or dolo enterprise is also an important factor. Dolo and shea butter are made almost exclusively by women and sold from the home or at a local market. One dolo brewer explained, “With the new well I can make an additional 40 liters [of dolo] each week to sell at the Thursday market. With the extra money I will purchase more pigs, they will eat the spent grain from the brewing process.” She also says that she was able to convince her husband to agree to the investment by securing a loan, which she plans to pay back herself with sales from her expanding dolo and pig business. Additional motivations for upgrading her well include providing safe drinking water for her family, protecting children from falling into the open well, and making water fetching easier for herself and her mother.
Only about 10% of the households interviewed had a water-based enterprise like dolo or shea butter underway, so its role in catalyzing investments in upgraded wells is not large. However, the findings are significant since supporting women’s entrepreneurship is a stated goal of the MUS program, and marketing strategies for MUS do not currently target women. Based on the survey findings, Winrock is now considering new strategies for spurring demand among female entrepreneurs, including holding separate demonstrations for women and crafting more targeted messages.
Going forward, the JHU research team aims to help Winrock further understand how water supply investments are planned by family members. There is also interest in monitoring the sustainability of Winrock’s MUS projects through the new JHU WaterLeader initiative. WaterLeader provides a comprehensive framework for investigating the long-term efficacy of water and sanitation services. In addition, little is known about the impacts of MUS on human health, household food security, or environmental quality. These and other ideas were the focus of discussions that took place at the recent MUS International Exchange Visit in Morogoro, Tanzania. Through ongoing dialogue, research and development practice are informing each other.
- Names were changed to protect the identity of survey participants