ECOSOUTH NETWORKING – from Namibia to Thailand

Beate Grunzke   

During our holidays in Thailand we took the opportunity to visit Geoffrey Wheeler who Peter met at the ecomaterials conference in Santa Clara in September of 2001. Geoffrey started to build up a Center for Vocational Building Technology (CVBT) in a village in Northeastern Thailand after he married into a Thai family. A close relationship to the catholic church enabled him to build the center on church owned land. Thus, in 1991, the CVBT was founded. Its aim is to create new employment in Northeastern Thailand by promoting small-scale manufacture of concrete building materials, thereby replacing imports to the region and helping to reduce migration of workers to Bangkok or foreign countries.


The entrance to the center is next to a large catholic church, with a congregation of some sixty families. Right on the main road, highly visible to passing vehicles, is an exhibition of products of the Center: MCR tiles, interlocking compressed earth blocks, curved cement blocks for rainwater takns, and paving slabs.

Since 1991 the CVBT has been using, researching, developing and promoting small-scale building materials manufacturing technologies as a means to create new employment for villagers. The CVBTs first product was a large concrete roofing tile (the MCR semi-sheet) that competes with products imported to the region. The product range for roofing tiles now includes a small MCR Roman tile. Both types of tiles are simple for villagers to make on a 12-Volt vibrating table. Cement made from rice husk ash is another example of a technology being explored at the CVBT. Curved blocks for building water tanks are a simple technology that can help families have clean and safe drinking water (rainwater). Interlocking compress earth blocks (ICEBs) are made from laterite soil and cement compressed by use a Cinva-Ram type of manual press. The blocks are strong and popular and with them many beautiful homes have been built. The Soeng Thai ornamental paving slab, which is simple for the villagers to produce, sells well.

Training programs are held on request. Most production curriculums are ten days and include raw material selection, production, testing and equipment maintenance. Courses are held at the Center and on site. Hostel and kitchen facilities are available for participants. In addition two students from the university in Bangkok work in the project for several months.

Research and Development
The CVBT designs tools, technologies and products for small-scale production and testing of building materials. It has developed several technologies that help villagers easily make quality products. A very simple one is the plastic measuring bucket fabricated from PVC pipe and which has a relatively small mouth compared to its tall height. This reduces errors in measuring raw materials (sand, stone and soil) for making products.

In the field of MCR Geoffrey has developed different frames for the vibrating table, for ridge tiles, “pre-cut” tiles and for the "wringed ridge" system (long and short round ridge tiles). He has built a simple structure in which tiles and blocks can be vapor cured. As well, there are the shiny tiles, glazed with acrylic paint.

Interlocking compressed earth blocks could be interesting for Namibia, as it is possible to produce blocks with a cement:soil ratio which lies between 1:6 and 1:10 by volume, depending on the soil and cement qualities. A great amount of cement, which is imported from South Africa, could be eliminated by using Namibian soil, thereby creating employment for low skilled people and reducing the energy demand needed for transport. An advantage over adobe is that you don't need to plaster because the ICEBs are water resistent. Difficulties with this technology could lay with the equipment, in the Soil Pulverizer Machine which could need much maintenance, and in the block press which has to be corrected once a day to assure that the blocks have exact the same size.

All this was achieved without large funding from outside. In the past years the British Embassy sponsored some training equipment and paid the fees for the trainees, the GTZ had some funds for the development of appropriate technologies. But now the center has to generate its money by selling the products and with taking fees for training.

Current situation
Four people work full time at the center, as well as a housekeeper and gardener on a daily basis and around 15 villagers who are paid per brick produced.
The tile production is currently dormant because of marketing problems. In Thailand many different roofing systems are available, manufactured by companies who can afford big advertisement campaigns in the TV. Thus the MCR tile market is still limited to NGOs who want to support this technology. It seems to be different in Laos and Cambodia, where Geoffrey sees a large market potential for MCR. He is in contact with Vocational Training Centers in both countries and works on setting up a network.
The CVBT has just exported some block presses to South Africa which will probably be used for construction projects in Angola.

What we take back to Namibia

  • Knowledge for the construction of metal roof structures: Geoffrey designed a metal roof-structure with light steel angles (24x24x2.5mm) and a distance between the steel-rafters of 1.65m. The overhang at the end of the roof is 1.05m. After four years this roof is still in good condition without any signs of downward bending. Our standard roof will be developed with only one steel-rafter in the middle on a room length of three meters.
  • “Pre-cut”-tiles: Due to the four sided roofs we have to cut many tiles. This takes up most of the time needed for roofing and uses electricity at the construction site for grinding. Here in Thailand we found a tile which is already produced with a cut. Ideal for the standard roof which we are going to develop for the future houses.
  • Ideas for ridge tiles: Our product variety will be expanded with different kinds of MCR ridge tiles.

Geoffrey's family invited us for a beautiful dinner at their home. We were able to admired his lovely house, a two story building with walls made of ICEBs and roofed with MCR. We thank Geoffrey, his wife and the staff from the CVBT for the warm welcome, the good food and accommodation and the time they set aside for us.

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Kurt RhynerKurt Rhyner
Architect, PhD. Professor
Spanish, English, German, French.
Project conception, analysis of technologies and materials appropriate to the specific situation, financial analysis, executive management, backstopping, evaluations


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