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Tanzania: Ashden Award for Sustainable brick-firing technology

The Mwanza Rural Housing Programme (MRHP) in Tanzania has won an Ashden Award for their Sustainable brick-firing technology. This Sustainable brick-firing technology that uses rice husks, cotton waste and coffee husks instead of wood to fire bricks for house building, leads to thousands of new homes for the people of Mwanza.
An innovative brick-firing technology This technology has led to the construction of 100,000 new homes for the people of Mwanza whilst at the same time saving an estimated 1,500 kilo-tonnes of wood in five years.

Mwanza is situated on the southern shores of Africa’s largest lake yet there are parts of the region that are far from lush - rather they are semi-arid and dry with a high incidence of poverty. The quality of housing in the area is extremely poor with the majority of people living in semi-permanent mud structures that are vulnerable to storms and earth tremors.

MRHP, who have been working in the area for 15 years, saw the urgent need to find a way to improve the quality of housing in the region without causing further damage to the environment. Bricks were already being manufactured using wood to fire the kilns. In an area already severely deforested, this was causing huge problems, not to mention the fact that 100 year old mango trees were being cut down to produce wood for brick-firing.

MRHP began looking for a sustainable method of firing bricks for house building that would also be cost effective. The result was a brick-firing kiln capable of producing good quality bricks that does not burn a single tree. Instead it uses widely available agro waste including cotton waste, rice husks, coffee husks and in some cases sawdust to fire the kiln.

To date MRHP has helped villagers to set up sustainable brick-making businesses by providing training and loans to build 50 kilns in various villages and one large permanent kiln. Together they have produced enough bricks to build an impressive 100,000 homes (1,500 in each of the 70 villages involved in the scheme). The quality of the bricks is also high enough for them to have been adopted for use in a 3,000 house-building programme by one of Tanzania’s largest pension funds (the Parastatal Pensioners Fund).

Not only has this project radically improved the quality of housing for 50% of the region’s inhabitants, who no longer have to regularly re-build their homes, it has also regenerated the region by employing several hundred largely unskilled youths in brick-making. In fact, right from the start the project was developed as a means of setting up local businesses with dozens of young men trained to use the technology and given loans to help them start up. There is now a thriving local industry in the area that has lifted people out of poverty and fostered a genuine entrepreneurial spirit that is spreading throughout the region.

All aspects of the supply chain have been involved. Rice millers, for example, were persuaded by MRHP to use new machinery imported from China to produce better quality husks. The husks have since gained value and the millers have found an excellent outlet for this previously unmanageable waste product.

MRHP’s efforts have not stopped there. Working together with local communities, the project has also established wood lots to increase forest cover in the region and designed and developed an energy saving stove made using local clays. Hundreds of women have been trained to produce and maintain the stoves and to date 14,000 have been installed. The stoves are cheap, and save more than 50% of fuel wood, compared to the conventional stove.

As part of their efforts to improve local quality of life and housing in a sustainable and renewable way, MRHP have also started looking into solar photovoltaics for lighting. So far they have installed 12 PV solar home systems. Customers pay 50% of the cost of the installation up front and then the rest over 12 months. The expense, however, means it is not an approach that is affordable to the majority of the population in the semi-arid region of Mwanza.

In the words of the producers ..

“I have only been working as a brick maker for one year. With the loan from MHRP I have already made 60,000 bricks and this allows me to repay my loan and live comfortably. Next year I plan to double my production” Brick maker

“The women used to feel inferior, now they have come up, you often see women riding their own bicycle.” Project worker on the MRHP’s women’s programme.

“At the age of 28 I am now well established in the community. All my children can go to secondary school, when I myself did not even go to primary.” Brick maker

“Before, i used to spend so much of my time rebuilding my mud home. I was very fed up. Now that I have a well built home made of bricks, I don't have to worry about rebuilding it again and again. I can relax and enjoy my home.” Mzee Isangu, Missungwi District, Tanzania.

Ashden Award money would be used to provide core funding to this small yet effective NGO and to expand their women’s programme, training them on energy saving stoves and planting wood lots.

MRHP was set up by a Belgian agency in 1992 with a 10 year life-span. Since 2002 the project has become a ‘grass roots NGO’ with a variety of funding sources. There are 400 members working in five districts of the Mwanza region.

Mrs Ashiliya E Nyanda , manager of MRHP and project leader will be representing MRHP at the Ashden Awards ceremony in London.

Additional information:
News date: 28/06/2006

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