During my recent visit to Addis Ababa, I met with Tulip Addis Water Filter, a private company selling ceramic water filters in Ethiopia since 2010. Its product, known as the “Tulip” water filter, is a siphon device with a ceramic element. The company reports a brisk business in meeting the programmatic needs of local and international NGOs, with sales across all nine of Ethiopia’s regions and total volume of approximately 60,000 filters a year.
The filter, manufactured by Basic Water Needs of India, is sold by other companies in at least half a dozen countries around the world, including Malawi and Mozambique where it has recently been introduced by local entrepreneurs. Depending on distribution and marketing costs, the retail price tends to range from US$15 to US$25.
Although considered a relatively low-cost product, Tulip Addis General Manager Getaw Cherinet acknowledges that his filter is still unaffordable to many low-income earners. “Most of my customers are actually NGOs who give away the filters or sell them at reduced prices in order to better serve populations in need”, he says. In order to lower the retail cost further, the company has plans to build a factory and produce the ceramic element locally, in partnership with the manufacturer. With the additional production capacity, the company plans to expand into other East African markets and introduce a table-top version of the filter to make it more aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly. An added benefit of investing in a local production facility is to improve the availability of spare parts. Getaw also mentioned that he recently partnered on a proposal to evaluate the use of targeted vouchers to stimulate purchase by low-income families, an innovation which has been discussed at recent events of the International Network on Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage.
The Tulip filter has a useful life of about 7000L of drinking water and can produce filtered water at a flow rate of about 5 litres per hour. Although no peer-reviewed studies have been published on the microbiological effectiveness of the device, Tulip Addis Water Filter says their product has been approved by government authorities prior to introduction to the market. Getaw agreed that having independent researchers monitor and evaluate his product’s performance in the field and publish the findings in a journal would be a useful addition to the evidence base and help him better market his product. He welcomed researchers who might be interested in such a study.
Getaw also shared his view on key challenges to doing business in the Ethiopian market. “There is a foreign currency shortage in Ethiopia”, he says, “This makes it difficult for vendors to obtain bank-guaranteed letters of credit with which they could purchase at higher volume from overseas. This is one of the main incentives for me to invest in a local production facility.” In addition, he reports that his clients often face funding constraints or delays making it difficult for him to reliably predict sales volume and forecast inventory requirements.
For those interested to learn more about Tulip Addis Water Filter including researchers interested in an evaluation, please contact Getaw Cherinet (firstname.lastname@example.org).