Kenyan Eco-Village Being Built by Slum-Dwellers

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


A Kenyan eco-village is helping slum dwellers to start new lives and increase their wealth. The community, Kaputei, is being built by former slum residents – some of whom used to beg to survive – and is providing new homes with electricity, running water and services like schools and parks. By building their own homes, with the help of affordable mortgage loans, the residents are able to make a big upgrade to their quality of life while acquiring real wealth.

More than 900 million people – almost a sixth of the world’s population – now live in urban slums (UN). This number will double by 2030 as a result of rapid urbanization in developing countries. Already in developing countries 43 per cent of urban dwellers live in slums, and the figure leaps to 78 per cent in the least-developed countries. The UN estimates it will take US $18 billion a year to improve living conditions for these people – and most of it will have to come from the residents themselves.

Kaputei is a project of Kenya’s largest and oldest micro-finance lender, Jamii Bora ( Having enjoyed significant success in making loans to over 225,000 people – after starting out in 1999 with loans to just 50 beggars – it realized something on a larger scale was necessary to permanently transform the lives of poor Kenyans.

Jamii Bora’s founder, Ingrid Munro, saw the whole atmosphere of the slums as the biggest impediment to long-term life changes. “As long as you are living in the slums, you will never climb out of poverty,” she told The Independent newspaper. “Families of course need economic opportunities to rise out of poverty, but what good are they if you are still living in hell?”

Jamii Bora came up with the idea of building an entire community from scratch, and doing it in way that was affordable, ecological and sustainable, while building the wealth of the residents. Since 2007, the project has provided homes for 50 families; the target is to have homes for 2,000.

One former beggar who has built her own home is Clarice Adhiambo. An early client of Jamii Bora, she started to learn how to save, reaching her first goal of saving 1,000 Kenyan shillings (US $12.81). With Jamii Bora’s encouragement, she plowed this money back into buying some fish and selling it in the markets. Over time, she was able to grow her efforts until she was a regular market trader, and was borrowing as much as US $1,900 to fund various slum businesses.

Then came the Kaputei project. It has helped Adhiambo move from a 3 meter by 3 meter tin shack in the Nairobi slum of Soweto to her own home with running water: “So much water,” she told The Independent.

The new home is 50 square metres with two bedrooms, a sitting room and a bathroom.

Adhiambo pays US $36 a month for her mortgage — more than most people, because she wants to pay it off quickly. That compares to about US $20 a month in rent paid by many slum dwellers to live in squalor with poor services and quality of life.

Kaputei is a clever community project. Unlike attempts to build housing for the poor in isolation, Kaputei is based on neighbourhoods of 250 families each, with common community centres, playgrounds, parks and church halls. There is a town centre, and zones for commercial and industrial enterprises. The project was approved by the Kenyan government in 2004 and has planning permission for 119 hectares. Trees are being planted to provide protection from wind, add beauty, and, in time, to be a source of income or firewood. A wetland is being used to recycle waste water and is being run in partnership with Kenyan universities.

Each house costs US $1,875 to build. The homes are so cheap because the building materials are assembled in a factory on site, and the families help with the building.

Three house models are available and the families – from the Kamba, Kikuyu, Luo and Maasai peoples – choose the one they like by viewing show homes on site. Each home has access to roads, water and sewage.

It’s estimated the entire community of 2,000 families will cost US $3,750,000 for the homes, and another US $3,750,000 for infrastructure. Mortgages are offered at between 8.5 percent and 10 percent interest and are estimated to take 10 to 15 years to repay. The average mortgage is about US $32 a month.


Builders Without Borders: Is an international network of ecological builders who advocate the use of straw, earth and other local, affordable materials in construction. Website:

World Hands Project: An NGO specialising in simple building techniques for the poor.

CIDEM and Ecosur specialize in building low-cost community housing using eco-materials. They have projects around the world and are based in Cuba. Website:

The Building and Social Housing Foundation: An independent research organization promoting sustainable development and innovation in housing through collaborative research and knowledge transfer. Website:

Slum TV: Based deep inside Nairobi’s largest slum, Mathare, they have been seeking out the stories of hope where international media only see violence and gloom. Website:

Published: June 2009

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

2009: Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


© David South Consulting 2021


Energy-Efficient Wooden Houses are also Earthquake Safe

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


In Argentina, an innovative housing project has married good design with energy efficiency, earthquake resilience and the use of local materials and labour. As energy resources continue to be stretched around the global South, innovative building designs will be critical to the creation of sustainable housing for the future.

The happy mix of efficient modern design with affordable local materials and labour can be seen in three row houses designed and built by Buenos Aires-based Estudio BaBO ( in the El Once neighbourhood in Villa La Angostura, Patagonia, southern Argentina.

The wooden houses are built in a Norwegian style. Estudio BaBO, founded in 2007, discovered that the Scandinavian nation’s housing traditions were well suited to the particular needs of the region and the local government.

The local government imposed a number of planning guidelines and restrictions that needed to be met to receive planning permission. This included creating row houses which must be made of wood – a plentiful local resource. They also had to be earthquake-safe since the region is seismically active and be able to withstand the heavy rains common to the region.

Looking around for the right guidance to tackle this brief, Estudio BaBO discovered SINTEF – Norway’s leading disseminator of research-based knowledge to the construction industry ( The Nordic nation has many wooden homes and also has similar environmental conditions and challenges to Patagonia – though its precipitation tends to fall as rain, rather than snow.

The black-painted homes look typically Norwegian, with a tasteful and clean design that does not clash with the forested surroundings. An air chamber has been created inside the homes’ walls allowing for constant ventilation of the wood, which prevents the wood from rotting and extends the life of the house. With the high rainfall of the region, wood is at risk of rotting if allowed to become damp. The air cavity also insulates the house, providing significant energy savings while keeping the interior warm and comfortable.

Adding to the energy efficiency of the design, the windows are double glazed and heat is also circulated through the floor – an efficient way to heat a home because heat rises.

To keep costs down and the project simple, the palette used for the homes is simple but attractive: black, white, wood and metal. The local wood is cypress and is painted black. The interior walls are all white and the floors are made from black granite on the ground floor and cypress wood parquet on the upper floor. The rest of the woodwork in the house is also made of cypress.

Using locally sourced materials also helps to keep costs down.

The project was initially conceived in 2009 and the houses were built in 2010-2011. While wood is plentiful in Patagonia, traditionally the use of wood in construction was rudimentary and local labour skill levels were low. This meant the design had to be simple and easy to build.

“Despite the profusion of wood as a material in the south of Argentina, the lack of specialized knowledge and of a specialized industry narrow its uses to isolated structural elements and interior and exterior finishes,” said one of the architects, Marit Haugen Stabell.

The three units of two-storey row houses each come with a living room, dining room, kitchen, toilet, two bedrooms and a laundry room. Each home also has an outdoor patio. The homes are designed to receive maximum natural light. Deploying this energy efficient design is considered unusual for Argentina and Estudio BaBO has set a new standard for sustainable housing in the country.

It looks like the CLF Houses could inspire others to look again at wood as a building material.


1) A story on how researchers are perfecting wooden home designs to withstand heavy earthquakes. Website:

2) A website packed with photographs of wooden and other houses for inspiration and lesson learning. Website:

3) A step by step slideshow on how a Norwegian wooden house was re-built. Website:

4) Inspirational wooden home decorating ideas from across Scandinavia. Website:

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


© David South Consulting 2021


Decent and Affordable Housing for the Poor

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


Urban populations across the South are growing fast: by 2030, some 5 billion people around the world will live in cities. This year will be the first year in which urban dwellers (3.3 billion people) will outnumber rural residents for the first time (UNFPA).

Africa now has a larger urban population than North America and 25 of the world’s fastest growing big cities. Asia and Africa’s cities are growing by an incredible 1 million people a week, with 72 per cent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa living in slum conditions.

How well people dwell is integral to their mental and physical health. Most squatters and slum dwellers – a category that includes half the urban population of Africa, a third in Asia and a fourth in Latin America and the Caribbean – live in makeshift homes made from whatever they can get their hands on. These dwellings are usually unsafe and vulnerable to fire, floods, and earthquakes. On top of this, these sprawling slums can be depressingly grim to look at for those living there.

In Brazil’s Sao Paulo neighbourhood of Heliopolis – the largest of the city’s 400 favelas, or shantytowns – the majority of its dwellings are made from cement and brick. It is stigmatised as the ugliest part of the city, yet a unique initiative has transformed perceptions of the area – and brought pride to its residents. The project offers a model for slum areas looking to make the next leap up the ladder of development. Heliopolis first sprang up in the 1970s, wedged between highways and roads. Plagued by crime, there is a wide spread in incomes and urbanisation among the 120,000 residents packed into the one-and-a-half square mile. Older parts have many services, while newer areas lack basics like plumbing and electricity.

Well-known Sao Paulo-based Brazilian architect Ruy Ohtake ( mobilised the 6,000 residents to use a fixed palette of six colours – from bright yellow to deep purples – to create a look described as akin to an Italian hill town.

“Ohtake told a newspaper that Heliopolis was the ugliest part of the city, so we went to him and asked him to figure out how to make it beautiful,” Geronino Barbosa, director of the Heliopolis community group UNAS, told the design magazine Dwell.

Ohtake, famous for his hotel designs and renovating former colonial areas, rose to the challenge: “I believe in beauty as a social function, so what better way to exercise that belief,” he said. To avoid the initiative feeling like something being imposed from on high, the plan did not go ahead until the residents were happy. And to make sure they felt they owned the results, they did all the painting themselves. The result is a river of colour running through a landscape of dreary, unfinished brick homes jammed between streets and factories. The Italian hill town-effect leaves pedestrians experiencing a surprise as they turn through the streets, happening upon hidden plazas and little bars.

“Our dream is to expand this project to the entire favela,” said Barbosa. “People love their painted houses. One of our participants told me that her house has been transformed into a sort of Carnival parade.”

“Who doesn’t want to live in a beautiful house?” said UNAS’ head, Joao Miranda, to Dwell. “We want the same things as everyone else.”

Another architect has tackled the problem of how to create inexpensive but durable and beautiful homes for the poor. Iranian-born architect Nader Khalili ( has created what he calls ‘super adobe’ dwellings inspired by traditional Iranian rural homes. The cone-shaped homes are made from sandbags piled one on top of the other in a circular pattern. A basic home is three rooms of 400 square feet, and can be built by five people (with only one needing skills), within weeks. Being sandbags, the homes can easily be dismantled and moved or adapted to meet new space needs.

Khalili first fell in love with the sand adobe homes of Iran in the 1970s. He had been on a journey to find a home design that was both environmentally harmonious and could be built anywhere in the world quickly and cheaply. But while the original Iranian sand adobe is easily destroyed by earthquakes and bad weather, the ‘super adobes’ are earthquake, hurricane and flood resistant. They are now being built across the Americas , Asia and Africa.

“You can never build one of these that doesn’t look beautiful,” he said. “Just as you have never seen an ugly tree or an ugly flower.”


  • Builders Without Borders: Is an international network of ecological builders who advocate the use of straw, earth and other local, affordable materials in construction. Website:
  • World Hands Project: An NGO specialising in simple building techniques for the poor. Website:
  • Tsunami-Safe House: A design for Prajnopaya Foundation: a project coordinated by the SENSEable City Laboratory, a new research initiative between the Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. Website:
Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


© David South Consulting 2021


“Pocket-Friendly” Solution to Help Farmers Go Organic

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013


Interest in organic food and farming is high, and organics have become a growing global industry. The worldwide market for organic food grew by more than 25 per cent between 2008 and 2011, to US $63 billion, according to pro-organic group the Soil Association. That is an impressive accomplishment given the backdrop of the global economic crisis, and evidence that people value quality food, even in tough times.

One Kenyan company is hoping to help farmers benefit from this global surge in interest in organic food. The company is selling a healthy alternative to chemical fertilizers and is hoping it will soon be able to source its products in Kenya, too.

BioDeposit ( sells soil conditioner and natural fertilizer made from two ingredients: peat found in marshlands and silt dredged up from lakes, which is called sapropel ( This naturally occurring resource is rich in all the elements required for abundant crops and has the added benefit of not poisoning the soil and water table when used on farmer’s fields.

It is sold as a solution to the multiple pressures hitting farmers, from chaotic weather patterns to soil damage and decreasing yields. It offers a way to boost farm productivity without damaging the soil in the long term.

In 2011 the amount of farmland that was organic reached 37.2 million hectares in 162 countries – but this is still just 0.86 per cent of the world’s agricultural land (Research Institute of Organic Agriculture and International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements). If BioDeposit has its way, Kenyan farmers could help to grow the number of hectares being farmed organically.

Presenting the solution in October 2013 at the Global South-South Development Expo ( at the headquarters of the UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, Kenya, BioDeposit communications and media chief Nelly Makokha (, explained that the company is hoping to bring the technology behind BioDeposit to Kenya, if they can get permission.

At present, the source materials for the products are dredged from lakes in Latvia in Eastern Europe. Because of the political structures of Kenya, it means a long political process is ahead to gain permission to dredge any of the country’s lakes. BioDeposit’s Latvian scientists conducted research on the potential for Lake Naivasha ( in the Rift Valley and claim it has enough deposits to provide Kenya’s farmers with organic fertilizer for the next 200 years.

“If the government agrees, the fertilizer is basically cheaper than any other fertilizer the farmer [will] have ever used in a long time,” said Makokha. “It will be pocket-friendly for them. As they earn more money from the more yields, they are spending less on the fertilizer.

“Our slogan is ‘smart agriculture for health and wealth’  – health in terms of you become organically grown, and if you are looking for organic certification, we will organize that for the certifiers. Right now most countries are looking for organic food and cannot find it.

“So when you become organic that means you earn more money on your products so it means you are healthy and you are wealthy!”

The fertilizer comes in 12 milliliter packets that cost 200 Kenyan shillings (US $2.30). A farmer would need two packets for each quarter acre of farmland.

Based on a Russian discovery from the early 20th century, BioDeposit draws on naturally occurring resources.

Its products include BioDeposit Agro, described as a “biologically active soil conditioner,” and BioDeposit Elixir, described as a “humic plant growth stimulator.” The Elixir is a “sustainable, water-soluble” concentrate made from peat and can be used to soak seeds prior to planting, increasing the germination cycle. For the farmer, it means more seedlings in a shorter time. It also can be poured on compost piles to boost humic content to speed compost decay. Peat is formed from above-ground marsh plants, either on the surface or under a layer of water.

BioDeposit Agro is made from sapropel from the sediment at the bottom of freshwater lakes. It is a renewable, naturally-occurring resource as it has been formed from the accumulated settling of plants such as reeds, algae, trees, grasses and animals over time as they decay.

Unlike other chemical fertilizers, using the BioDeposit product does not require special protective clothing and does not harm human health. Children are also not at risk if they accidentally ingest the product.

“Most farmers have small farms – quarter acre, half acre, at most three acres,” said Makokha. “For a quarter acre you spend five dollars and you get more yields. Two of them would be approximately five dollars – that’s enough for a whole season – so it is pocket friendly.”

And if the company is able to harvest the material in Kenya, it would be even cheaper.

“You can imagine if we dredge here – probably (get the cost down to) a dollar – so it makes more sense for the farmers.”

The dredging has another positive impact: it helps with managing flooding by making the lake deeper once the silt is dredged out, making life better and safer for people living nearby.

BioDeposit has been operating in Kenya for a year and, Makokha said, “the response is awesome.”

BioDeposit organizes workshops for farmers through cooperative societies, helping to guide farmers through the whole process of becoming organically certified.

The company believes its products will help avert problems such as what happened recently when the European Union prevented some flowers – a major source of overseas income for Kenyan farmers – from entering the EU because of banned pesticides.

Cleverly, BioDeposit does most of its business digitally through mobile phones. It conducts its business with sales representatives by phone and conducts training by phone as well. All payments and bank transfers are done by phone using the M-PESA system (

“It is the easiest way to do business in Kenya,” said Makokha. “Everybody right now owns a mobile phone. When we get the M-PESA, we transfer directly to the account. You get the money and transfer to the bank account and you are done, very easy for everybody … doing wonders for us.”


1) Soil health crisis threatens Africa’s food supply. Website:

2) 2050: Africa’s Food Challenge: Prospects good, resources abundant, policy must improve: A discussion paper from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). Website:

3) State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet. Website:

5) Integrating Ethno-Ecological and Scientific Knowledge of Termites for Sustainable Termite Management and Human Welfare in Africa by Gudeta W. Sileshi et al, Ecology and Society, Volume 14, Number 1. Website:

6) Soil Association: The Soil Association was founded in 1946 by a group of farmers, scientists and nutritionists who observed a direct connection between farming practice and plant, animal, human and environmental health. Website:

7) Research Institute of Organic Agriculture: FiBL is an independent, non-profit, research institute with the aim of advancing cutting-edge science in the field of organic agriculture.  Website:

International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements: Since 1972, IFOAM has occupied an unchallenged position as the only international umbrella organization of the organic world, i.e. all stakeholders contributing to the organic vision. Website:

9) BioDeposit on Facebook. Website:


© David South Consulting 2021

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.