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Boosting affordable housing in Africa using ABTs

Majority of African countries are finding themselves in a housing crisis. Demand for housing in Africa is rapidly outstripping supply and with increased rural urban migration, containing the situation is emerging to be one of the greatest challenges in post colonial Africa and Alternative Building Technology (ABT) might hold the answer.

By Anthony Kiganda

More than ever before, enhancing affordable housing in African is emerging to be an enormous challenge that African countries are grappling with. The situation has been exacerbated by the cost of construction material, which is exorbitantly high in many countries. Construction materials can take over 60% of the whole construction cost.

Construction experts are advocating for intensive and extensive adoption of innovation and technology in a bid to significantly reduce the cost of materials and building processes.

“We have to invest in new building technologies in order to achieve construction industry foresight,” shares Chris Rust who is a Strategic Innovation Manager at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), South Africa’s leading scientific and technology research organizations.


Rust notes that affordable housing has continued to be a nightmare in Africa due to sketchy information on local construction materials, environmental conditions and rural development requirements.

These sentiments are shared by Shelter Afrique, a major investor in housing projects in Africa. Shelter Afrique observes that although Alternative Building Technologies (ABT’s) were introduced in the last decade in Africa, there has been low acceptance and much resistance.

“Many people still prefer to use conventional “brick and mortar” because most buyers associate ABTs with the poor and that the end product is of inferior quality.” Reads a Shelter Afrique report of 2014.

The report notes that structural problems coupled with inadequate local manufacturing capacity of the material, have led to many developers shying away from these innovations.

African governments have also been blamed for low adoption of ABTs. Authorities take long to approve alternative construction methods. A case in point is Namibia, where it is hard to satisfy the bank or municipality for approval of loans and building designs when an alternative construction method is involved in residential construction projects. One would be required to have a certificate thereof from a Cape Town institution. Before the institution approval is granted, a house must be first erected for testing in Cape Town.

“It is unacceptable that after 24 years since independence Namibia must still observe South African laws or regulations regarding alternative construction methods, which have been embraced as a sustainable solution for housing globally,” quips Professor Gangfu Yang who is involved in the development of alternative construction methods.

Richard China, the president and CEO of International Green Structures (IGS) – a company that is building low cost houses in Kenya using prefabricated technology – has also previously indicated that cultural adaptation is needed in order to see penetration of low-cost housing technologies – ABTs.

“Our biggest challenge is the cultural adaptation and convincing different people in these countries that this is a technology that will ensure a safe, secure house without conventional construction process that they’re used to.” He said in an interview with investor Tim Melvin.

Low cost Housing Projects

Despite the enormous challenges facing the adoption of ABTs, some countries have embraced this technology in their housing projects. In South Africa for instance, Moladi Building Technology has completed a number of affordable housing projects using the reusable modular plastic formwork known as Moladi where brick-less walls are built by pouring mould (mortar – stone-less concrete – and a special concrete additive) onto the formwork –which is then removed and reused up to 50 times hence lowering construction costs.

The technology is being promoted in a bid to deliver 1.5 million new homes by 2019. The project is being boosted by banks, mining companies, and developers, who will give a contribution of $20 billion in five years for the project.

The Social Contract for the Development of Sustainable Human Settlements project will help transfer skills to locals for mass production.

“Once labourers construct three houses using this system they will master the use of the technique. We use local workforce to construct this sample houses,” explains Yang while showing off a prototype, adding that most materials can be sourced locally.

The South African technology has been unveiled in Nigeria which has a housing deficit of 17 million units.

In Kenya, International Green Structures (IGS) is using compressed agriculture fiber as a basis for their low-cost prefabricated housing technology solutions.

“The technology itself is called compressed agriculture fiber. It began in the 1940s and was originally patented in Sweden and developed in the UK and was utilized in housing where a many houses were rebuilt in Europe using this technology,” said Richard China.

Another technology being used in Kenya is known as expanded polystyrene panels (EPS). The technology uses cheaper materials than conventional stones, yet they are strong enough to withstand bullet and improvised explosion devices attacks. It is expected that the emerging innovations would help reduce the 250,000 thousand housing units deficit per annum.

Other initiatives in Kenya  were reviewed when it was announced that the government will begin the  production of Appropriate Building Materials (ABMT) by building a regional center for ABMTs to capitalize on hydraform technology, a technique that has gained popularity in South Africa. The Ministry of Housing said it would set up a regional ABMT in Mavoko, Machakos County, 9 provincial centers and centers in 52 constituencies around the country. Appropriate Building Materials and Technologies (ABMT) do not only lower cost of construction but are also safe, environmental-friendly to use-and result in high-quality structures that also reduce construction time.

In Uganda, plastic wastes are being recycled to make floor and roof materials.

Elsewhere, the Niger government is financing low-cost housing through Sari Koubou Project. The Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe (IDBZ) is planning to raise US$100 million to help build low-cost houses across the country.

Other projects

Even as construction of houses using locally available materials picks up the pace in Africa, the deficit of houses is still wide and countries need to step up efforts to provide solutions.

For example, the Government of Gambia is in Phase II of the Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme, in order to deliver 2 000 low cost housing units in Banjul, KMC and Brikama.  Togo government is planning to construct 1 000 affordable housing units by end of 2014 . Uganda is facing a 1.3 million units shortage and the largest developer NHCCL, constructed 4 593 housing units by 2014.

In Libya, AECOM will undertake a housing and infrastructure development program worth US$36 billion in partnership with HIB. The country is staring at a housing shortage of 350 000 per year.

Meanwhile,  Malawi Housing Corporation has partnered with Chinese Henan Guoji Development Company towards developing 780 000m2 integrated estate in Lilongwe, an initiative that will lower the cost of houses. The government of Malawi also offers subsidies for affordable housing to the employed.

Meanwhile,  Addoha, one of Morocco’s largest real estate developers is leading in provision of low-cost housing market by 50%.

Namibia is staring at a 100 000 housing units shortage annually which is growing at 3 700 units annually. The government is, through the 2013 Mass Housing Development Initiative planning to construct 185 000 units by 2030.

The government of Tanzania is targeting to construct 50 000 houses in the next five years under ‘Civil Servants Housing Scheme’ to cut down the three million housing units annual shortage. The Chinese Geo-Engineering Corporation is undertaking construction of real estate complex where 21 high-rise buildings of between 12 and 15 storeys were to be constructed by 2015 at a cost of US$151m. This would help alleviate the shortage of 900 000 and one million units in urban areas. The World Bank has already given the country US$60m for affordable housing. 

Despite the progress in meeting low cost housing in Africa, UN agency Habitat, says that the continent requires 4 million units per year to cover its housing needs.

In its recent report, the UN agency notes that the failure of policies and the formal housing market to cater to the housing needs of the poor and lower middle-income households have translated to the growth in slum populations. The body further blames huge housing deficits in Africa to poor response of governments to the issue, ignorance by governments on the housing issue, land delivery systems, urban planning and poor organization of construction sectors.

But with the adoption of new building technologies, it remains to be seen whether housing in Africa could be significantly boosted given that the continent’s population is rapidly increasing.

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