Construction Ideas


Earth bag walls with intermittent wood columns

Stack earthbags in a row, build vertically.

Use wood columns for vertical structure.

-Stretch the chicken mesh over the wall surface
-Hook it on using pieces of binding wire
-Apply the first coat of cement plaster

Glass block adds a nice decorative touch to earthbag walls. The building process for adding glass block is fairly simple: Make wood frames much like window bucks, only smaller. Earthbag walls are quite thick, so you will probably want double glass blocks – one near the interior, one near the exterior. This creates a wide, strong surface to support earthbags above. To do this, build 2×4 frames (bucks) for each glass block. Plan ahead so you know where to insert the frames in the wall, and then set and level the frames where you want them. Frames are held in place by earthbags pressing against them. Curve the bag ends that adjoin the frames by pinning corners of bags out of the way to create gently rounded edges in the plaster. Set the glass block in place after the walls and roof are finished. Add four nails behind each block to hold in place, and then plaster around the blocks.

Will utilize an extensive green roof

The multiple layers of the green roof protect the underlying roof materials from the elements in three ways: by protecting from mechanical damage (mostly from humans, but also from wind-blown dust and debris, and animals); by shielding from ultraviolet radiation; and by buffering temperature extremes, minimizing damage from the daily expansion and contraction of the roof materials. A roof assembly that is covered with a green roof can be expected to outlast a comparable roof without a green roof by a factor of at least two, and often three.

Preparation and construction

Growing medium: Soils or Soil substitutes

A living roof for wild flowers will require a minimum depth of 80 – 150mm of growing medium. The ideal growing medium will be able to absorb and hold water, supply basic nutrients and maintain a fairly open structure for root growth. In addition, the material should not be too heavy or contain a high proportion of fine particles that can block filters. These requirements are not usually all found in one material so it is often best to use a blend of materials, preferably from locally sustainable sources. The advantages and disadvantages of the materials commonly employed are reviewed below.

NOTE: care should be taken when selecting the materials for your scheme as some may be deemed unsuitable for particular applications. Our plant based review that follows must not be taken as an endorsement of the suitability of any of the materials for roof construction projects – these issues should be addressed with your designer to make sure that environmental standards are met and manufacturers’ guarantees protected.
It is particularly important to remember that this depth of material will be very heavy, especially when wet. It can weigh up to four times the designed load bearing capacity of a tiled roof, so a structural assessment and some reinforcement is essential!
Lime based materials (chalk, concrete etc) are sometimes banned as they may compromise installed drainage and filter systems, and recycled green waste may have water quality issues in its run-off.

Crushed brick and concrete – for wild flowers some of the most interesting results can be achieved using recycled aggregates as a basis for a growing medium (‘soil’ forming substitute). These materials are generally low in nutrients and often lime rich which makes it possible to grow plants that cannot survive the competition of growth found on ordinary soils. Added to this, in urban situations these materials can usually be sourced locally and there is the satisfaction of physically transforming a piece of concrete jungle directly into green plant habitat!
Crushed brick – is probably the most generally useful of these soil forming recycled materials as it is porous and therefore lighter than other aggregates, can hold water and air within its pores and is often alkaline.
Crushed concrete – is useful as it is lime rich and nutrient poor in character so particularly suited for growing the specialist plants of chalk and limestone ‘scree’. Crushed concrete is, however, heavy and will not hold moisture. It is best used in combination with other materials.
Chalk or limestone chippings – where available locally are also excellent materials for plants – unlike concrete they can be quite good at holding water (especially softer chalks).
Sand and gravel based materials – can be used to create urban shingle or dune like communities. Fine sands should be avoided on exposed sites where the material may blow away, or block drainage.
Soil and subsoil – whilst soil is usually a good growing medium it is heavy, often carries a burden of weed seeds and roots, and may be too fertile, so should be chosen and used with care. Soil material with a significant clay or silt content is also best avoided as it can lead to drainage or soil-structural problems on roofs.
Composts/organic matter – raw soil forming materials like crushed aggregates or subsoil will usually need blending with organic matter to supply basic nutrients, hold moisture and reduce root restricting compaction. Well made green waste, domestic or peat-free composts are good but some can be too rich in nutrients so should be used in moderation. Wood fibre or recycled paper fibre are useful alternatives as they decompose and release nutrients very slowly.
Lightweight materials – such as manufactured water-retentive expanded rock granules are frequently incorporated into green roof designs to save weight.

Water retention, Drainage and Waterproofing

A constructed living roof will need to retain enough moisture to support plant growth but drain surplus water so that it does not become waterlogged. It will also need to have a waterproof layer to protect the building below.

Irrigation? -in drier eastern regions rainfall is not consistent enough in an average summer to prevent a shallow ‘soil’ drying out and the vegetation turning brown with die back. Irrigation is one possible solution especially if recycled water can be used. The better answer is to save water and accept the die back as part of the ecological cycle of your created habitat and select appropriate species that are either drought tolerant or are able to regenerate from seed (eg annuals/biennials). Open sparsely vegetated habitats created in this way are valuable for certain insects and spiders.


A living roof construction will usually contain the following components (from the bottom up):

  • Waterproof and rootproof membrane(s) to prevent water and root penetration damaging the building
  • Drainage layer – gravel (lightweight) or other material designed to drain excess water
  • Filter sheet – geotextile or similar to allow water to drain but retain finer soil material
  • Moisture blanket – to hold water (capillary matting or recycled carpet or textiles)
  • ‘Soil’ / Substrate/ Growing medium

To create a diversity of micro habitats, the depth, composition and topography of the ‘soil’ may be varied. Surface features may include patches of coarse gravel or scattered stones (also help protect surface from heavy rain or wind blow), small boulders or logs.

Works Cited:

“Preparation and Construction | Creating a Green Roof | Further Information | Emorsgate Seeds – (01553) 829 028.” Wildflowers, Wild Grasses and Mixtures | Emorsgate Seeds – (01553) 829 028. Web. 23 Apr. 2011. <;.

Reason for green roofs:

Advantages of green roofs or infiltration roofs are as follows:

  • good water retention
  • air cooling
  • additional oxygen production
  • regulation of air moisture
  • noise reduction
  • dust binding

Pitched green roofs upwards of 9° require additional shear barriers

Runoff Coefficients of Green Roofs
The runoff coefficient depending on roof pitch and type of planting is a measure for rainwater retention. If the runoff coefficient C is 0.1, 10% of the precipitation will run-off and about 90% will be taken up and evaporated by vegetation.


Fig. 5: Construction of an extensive grass roof

Fig. 6: Construction of an intensive grass roof (simple)

Fig. 7: Construction of an intensive grass roof

Works Cited:

Klaus W., König: Regenwasser in der Architektur, Ökologische Konzepte, ökobuch Verlag, Staufen bei Freiburg, 1996; Geiger / Dreiseitl: Neue Wege für das Regenwasser, Oldenbourg Verlag, München 1995

Reading: Farming Systems and Poverty


Building on the discussion in Chapter 1 of the global trends influencing farming system evolution, this section provides an overview of common trends affecting
most farming systems in the region. These are discussed under the headings of population, hunger and poverty; natural resources and climate; science and technology; trade liberalisation and market development; policies, institutions and public goods; and information and human capital.
Population, hunger and poverty
The population of Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to increase by 78 percent in the coming three decades. This is considerably faster than the projected growth rate for developing countries as a whole. During this 30 year period, the rural population is projected to increase by 30 percent, and the agricultural component is expected to expand by a slightly lower proportion, moderated by growing urbanisation. Urban population – currently 33 percent – is expected to rise to 50 percent of the overall total by 2030. Sub-Saharan Africa is unique in that rapid urbanisation has been occurring during a period of economic contraction. HIV/AIDS has already depressed population growth rates in many East and Southern African countries and is causing immense suffering; infection rates are already rising in West Africa. If HIV spreads faster than expected, East and Southern Africa could experience an extremely sharp contraction of the labour force in the prime working age group (although with the exception of South Africa Urban and peri-urban agriculture are often referred to collectively. Whilst urban agriculture refers to production inside city (including suburban) limits, there are many definitions of the outer boundary of peri-urban agriculture. In this book, farmers outside the boundaries of cities and towns are included in the corresponding farming system.

See United Nations Population Division (2000) for an analysis of the demographic impact of AIDS.

net populations growth will continue), a corresponding rise in dependency ratios, and an increase in the number of AIDS orphans requiring assistance. Already, traditional social safety nets are unable to cope with the existing orphans. The cost to the economy – in loss of productive labour, medical costs and orphan support – is likely to be overwhelming. Up to the present time, the farming systems most affected have been the Highland Perennial and the Maize Mixed Systems, but the Large-scale Commercial and Smallholder System has also lost much of its skilled supervisory labour force. Because labour requirements for cassava are more evenly spread throughout the year than they are for cereals, farmers try to cope by expanding the area under cassava and reducing the area under cereals. In the Highland Perennial System, neglect of coffee and bananas is partly due to AIDSrelated labour shortages. Moreover, HIV/AIDS is adversely affecting government staff and private agricultural service providers. Staff turnover is so high that much of the investment in human capacity building by agricultural projects, including overseas training, may have been wasted. During the past 30 years the number of undernourished people in the region has increased substantially, to an estimated 180 million people in 1995-1997. During 1995-1997, the average daily Sub-Saharan African diet contained 2 188 kcal/person/ day compared with 2 626 in developing countries as a whole. It is estimated that 33 percent of the regional population was undernourished at this time, with a higher incidence of undernourishment found in rural areas than among urban dwellers. During the period until 2030, the average energy intake is projected to increase by 18 percent to 2 580 kcal/person/day. In spite of the increased calorie supply, it is estimated that around 15 percent of the population (about 165 million people) will still be undernourished – an increase in the absolute number – unless
deliberate measures are taken to ensure better access to food. The region has a higher proportion of people living in dollar poverty than any other region of the world. Across the whole region, rural poverty still accounts for 90 percent of total poverty and approximately 80 percent of the poor still depend on agriculture or farm labour for their livelihood. Of even more concern, the total number of poor people is increasing.

Natural resources and climate
Currently, forest covers approximately 400 million ha (almost 17 percent of land area). The current annual deforestation rate is 0.7 percent and the decline in forest area is expected to continue. The farming systems that are most closely linked with deforestation are: the Forest Based System; the Tree Crop System; the Root Crop System; and the Cereal-Root Crop Mixed System. Currently, the Maize Mixed, the Highland Perennial and the Highland Temperate Mixed Systems are experiencing particularly acute fuelwood shortages. Cultivated area has expanded from 123 million ha in 1961-1963 to 173 million ha (including annually cultivated land and permanent crops) in 1999. This represents a slow annual expansion of 0.73 percent mostly through conversion of forest and S U B – S A H A R A N A F R I C A grasslands and shortening of fallows. During the period until 2030, cultivated land is projected to expand even more slowly, but the actual rate of expansion will depend upon the future evolution of farming systems. The area affected by land degradation is increasing and the causes are complex. There are many aspects of land degradation; including soil erosion, soil compaction, reduced soil organic matter, declining soil fertility and soil biodiversity. Although land degradation is evident in a majority of farming systems, it is particularly notable in those such as the Highland Perennial and the Highland Temperate Systems where – in the absence of policy incentives for good land management – high population density places excessive pressure on land. The region has a moderate level of renewable water resources, but only two percent of the available resources are currently utilised for irrigation compared with 20 percent in the overall group of developing countries. Only 6.5 million ha are currently irrigated and during the period until 2030, projections suggest a slower expansion than the 2.1 percent per annum achieved during the past four decades.
As global warming accelerates the most affected farming systems are likely to be those in the arid, semiarid and dry subhumid areas18. The increasing frequency and severity of droughts are likely to cause: crop failure; high and rising cereal prices; low and falling livestock prices; distress sale of animals; decapitalisation, impoverishment, hunger, and eventually famine. Households will probably try to cope with their cash and food shortage by cutting and selling firewood – thereby exacerbating land degradation and accelerating the onset of desertification – and by moving temporarily or permanently to more favoured areas. Conflicts between sedentary farmers and pastoralists will become more common as a result. The Forest Based System, on the other hand, might benefit from reduction of excess moisture, but it is likely to face a population influx from neighbouring areas. The new settlers will cut and clear the forest to plant their crops – which might reduce beneficial effects of carbon sequestration by tropical forests. With increased population pressure, fallow periods would decline, making it progressively more difficult for farmers to maintain soil fertility and to control noxious weeds. Not only could yields fall, but biodiversity could also suffer.

Works Cited:

Cultural Collage

Arusha Gardens

Tanzanian Paths