Building in Malawi

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In order to build the adobe brick houses in the Lynedoch EcoVillage, the Sustainability Institute facilitated the establishment of a new building company called Astech.

This company was established by two people that the Institute brought together, namely a builder called Luke Boshier and a Civil Engineer called Rahul Jobanputra. Luke had built adobe brick houses in McGregor, a small town in the Cape hinterland. Rahul has practiced as an engineer for twenty years in the UK and Cape Town. After teaming up, Luke and Rahul established Astech to build the houses at Lynedoch. They have been contracted by Lynedoch Development to build the first ten houses. As the houses have risen literally out of the earth they stand on, they have attracted attention and many requests for similar developments have started to flow into the Astech offices (which are now set up at Lynedoch in a house that Astech bought from Lynedoch). One of these requests has come from Malawi where a project involving 6000 houses has been initiated. 220 of these have been built.

The origin of the Malawi request lies in a visit to Malawi by Mark Swilling and his son Michael in December 2004. This was on the invitation of Shackdwellers International who invited Mark to evaluate the work of a rapidly spreading housing federation led by men and women from the poorest towns of Malawi. Several hundred savings clubs have already been established. Mark noticed that the clay around the main towns was of high quality, but the dominant practice was to fire the kilns using valuable hardwoods from the surrounding forests. Every few kilometres along the main roads piles of clay brick could be seen, stacked as kilns for firing. With one of the highest urbanisation rates in Africa, the forests were fast disappearing. Soon after his return home, a student of Mark’s wrote a fascinating essay on the depletion of Malawi’s forests because fuel was needed to fire the kilns. This student turned out to be a lecturer at the University of Zomba in Malawi. Based on this research which confirmed Mark’s observations, a group of women were invited to Lynedoch to see how it was possible to build houses using clay blocks that are not fired, but rather dried in the sun. The women then invited Luke to visit Malawi to run a week long training course. Three months later Luke returned to Malawi and found that the federation had secured land and thousands of bricks had been made. He spent another week training them to build their first house. They are now building the first 2500 houses. The women save to buy materials, and then help each other to build the houses. A key challenge is to secure enough cheap lime for the plastering. Luke will travel again next week to Malawi to teach the women how to plaster the adobe brick houses with a lime plaster which is then treated with a mix of lime paste and animal fat.

A future challenge lies in how to treat the sewerage using biogas digesters so that a fuel source for cooking can be secured – this both prevents the sewerage seeping into the groundwater supplies, but also reduces the demand for wood fuels that can only get supplied by the surrounding forests.

Given that Shackdwellers International is organised in dozens of developing countries, this Malawi project could have a significant impact.