Earth Roofs of the Sahel
Earth Roofs of the Sahel
Critical Need Being Addressed
The Sahel is a vast green belt threatened by desertification. The future of its rural families, and its ecosystems, are interconnected. Affordable housing that is based on local skills and materials, has a low environmental impact, and is economically self-sustaining, is essential to the region's social and environmental restoration.
Description of Initiative
The Association la Voûte Nubienne (AVN), a non-profit NGO registered in France and in Burkina Faso, was founded in 2000 by a French stone mason (Thomas Granier) and a Burkinabe farmer (Seri Youlou). It enables the construction of timberless vaulted earth brick houses which are environmentally friendly, sustainable, affordable, and comfortable, using the Nubian Vault (NV) technique. Such houses can be built with locally sourced materials, are an evolution of vernacular architectural traditions, are long-lasting (c. 50 years) and avoid the use of expensive, imported, manufactured building materials. In contrast, houses or shacks with tin roofs that one sees all over Africa have no thermal or sound insulation properties, and the roofs need replacing every 7-10 years - a major drain on family resources.
The NV technique, a simplified, standardized, version of an ancient technique from the Nubian region of Egypt, and a good example of South > South technology transfer, is relatively unknown in the Sahel. It has been validated at technical and socio-economic levels during the first few years of AVN's activity, and is now in a phase of scaling up. Through its 'Earth roofs in the Sahel' Program, the AVN organises the recruitment and on-the-job training of NV masons, helps them to become independent entrepreneurs, and helps to provides clients for them through its promotional, communication, and networking activities.
BFI Assessment Summary
The Association la Voûte Nubienne (AVN), a multiple, prestigious award-winning French/African NGO founded in 2000, enables the large scale construction of timber-less, vaulted earth brick houses that are environmentally friendly, sustainable, long lasting (50 years +), affordable, and comfortable, using only cheap or free locally sourced materials (as opposed to the flimsy, uncomfortable shacks built with expensive imported materials and tin roofs so prevalent in the developing world). The organization has resurrected an ancient Nubian building design, which they have simplified and standardized to create modular housing ideally suited for the immense Sahel region (and any other deforested, dry regions worldwide), a good example of South-South technology transfer.
Through its 'Earth Roofs in the Sahel' program, the AVN provides on-the-job training for hundreds of masons and helps them become independent entrepreneurs. Since its inception 12 years ago the project has built over 1300 structures for 530+ clients in 244 locations in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Senegal, with pilot programs now in Zambia and Madagascar, all together housing more than 10,000 people. 214 masons have been trained and another 296 apprentices are in training. The program has grown an average of 36% a year.
The program has been remarkably effective in helping create a dynamic, self-sustaining local economic model that spreads virally as masons and local people learn the building technique (learnable by even illiterate apprentices in 2 to 6 months on the job), become independent entrepreneurs and spread the knowledge to apprentices, neighbors, etc.
The review team is very impressed with the success this project has had creating large-scale, attractive, affordable, culturally and socially appropriate housing using only local skills and materials, and engendering a cascade of positive socio-economic and environmental impacts. This model definitely has the potential to be emulated widely in much of Africa and beyond.