Sustainable Housing for Rural Families in Africa

May 15, 2012

Major international recognition for AVN Program & Updates from the field

AVN promotional meeting , Deguele village, Burkina
AVN promotional meeting , Deguele village, Burkina

International recognition

AVN's model of social entrepreneurship has recently been recognised by three major organisations:

- AVN is one of 18 semi-finalists (out of 122 submissions) for the Buckminster Fuller Challenge 2012; the review team who chose AVN as a semi-finalist said that they were : "... very impressed with the success this project has had creating large-scale, attractive, affordable, culturally and socially appropriate housing using only local skills and materials, and engendering a cascade of positive socio-economic and environmental impacts. This model definitely has the potential to be emulated widely in much of Africa and beyond."

- AVN is winner of a SEED Award: the SEED Initiative identifies and supports promising small scale social and environmental entrepreneurs, and provides them with know- how and networks, as an Award winner, AVN benefited from a SEED sponsored workshop in Burkina Faso, and a chance to network with other winners at a meeting in South Africa, in March  

- and, a crowning glory : AVN is winner of the Schwab Foundation 'Social Entrepreneur of the Year' Competition for Africa: Thomas Granier has just returned from the Award Ceremeny, held May 9-11 during the World Economic Forum for Africa in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia.

Burkina Faso and Mali results this season

The construction season in the Sahel (the dry season) runs from September/ October to May / June. As of March 2012, the masons trained through our program have built, or are in the process of completing:

- 81 houses, predominantly for rural families  

- 4 community buildings (a church, a mosque, a library, and a health center)  

- 6 small hotel rooms and 1 restaurant

- 2 offices

In Burkina Faso, 42% of the constructions came about as a result of direct contacts between an independent NV builder and the client, without any intervention from AVN. This shows that an autonomous, self-sustaining market in NV construction is developing in the regions where NV masons are active. In Mali, this 'autonomization' is happening more slowly (14%), as our program was only launched there three years ago.

New programs in Senegal and Benin

Thomas Granier, CEO of AVN, was recently in Senegal for the launch of a new program in the region of Saint Louis, with sponsorship and field support from the French- Senegalese NGO Le Partenariat, based in Saint Louis. Two extension agents from Le Partenariat – have now completed their induction and training period with AVN in Burkina Faso, and have started on the launch and 'pump-priming' of the AVN program in the District of Podor (home town of the famous musician Baaba Maal). An agreement is about to be signed with the Eiffage Foundation to provide further financial support for this program.

A pilot village project was opened this season in northern Benin, with the German NGO Dassari Benefiz as a franchised partner, with their local project managers trained by AVN.

Recent Sponsors and Investors in Earth Roofs for the Sahel

Confidence continues to be shown in our work; during the last six months, new financial support and sponsorship has come from:

- the Artelia Foundation, and the Abbé Pierre Foundation for our work in Burkina Faso  

- the Air Liquide Foundation, and the Lemarchand Foundation for our program in Mali  

- the Servir Foundation for a pilot village project in Koubri, Burkina Faso.


A VN village classroom, Burkina Faso
A VN village classroom, Burkina Faso
A VN village mosque, Mali
A VN village mosque, Mali


Feb 9, 2012

Start of 2011/12 Season; New Website

AVN-Mali's offices in Pelengana Cultural Centre

NV Masons' Congresses

The 2011/12 construction season kicked off in October with regional masons' congresses in Boromo, Burkina Faso, and in Segou, Mali, as well as  a sub-regional seminar  in Boromo . The local AVN-Burkina and AVN-Mali teams took part, as well as Thomas Granier, Bruno Jarno (AVN statistician) and representatives of our franchised partners from Benin and Senegal. Work on the first VN building sites started at the same time, but will intensify this month, when farming work tails off. However, this year, the rains have been less than usual, demonstrating yet again the fragility of the environment of the Sahel. This season’s harvest is likely to be reduced, which probably means that construction activity will also be affected.

AVN-Mali Office opens

The new AVN team in Mali has moved into its dedicated office space in the Cultural Centre in Pelengana, Segou.. The Cultural Centre was built by a team of VN masons last year, and is well situated close to the Mairie in Pelengana. The AVN team at present consists of Ismaila Diallo (Assistant Director), Souleymane Koné (Extension Agent), assisted by Francis Tiene, on secondment from the AVN team in Boromo, and Mathieu Hardy, architect and acting Director. A second extension agent will be recruited by the end of the year.

Senegal: Opening of a new AVN Program in the Podor Region

AVN has set up a partnership with the Association "le Partenariat St-Louis Région Nord - PSLR" , which coordinates links between the French Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, and the region of St-Louis in Senegal.  Two PSLR members (Bachir Niang et Malyck Sy) went to Burkina Faso in October to take part in the opening congress of the 2011/12 construction season, and to complete their training as AVN extension agents. This new program, in the next few years, will pump-prime the market for NV housing in the Podor region - birthplace of the famous Senegalese musician, Baaba Maal.

New AVN Website

Please check out our stunning new website, at : the newly designed site contains more information, images, and videos, and is much easier to navigate than the old one. The English version is now complete, although the French, Spanish, and Arabic ones are still being finalized.

With best wishes to all our supporters for 2012

Tony Kaye

The AVN-Mali team
The AVN-Mali team
AVN seminar, Boromo
AVN seminar, Boromo
Masons' congress, Segou, Mali


Nov 17, 2011

Results & Impacts of the AVN Program by 2011

In September this year, we had a chance to collate the necessary data to provide a review the impacts of the last ten years' work by AVN and its network of masons; the results are very encouraging:

- Since the start of the program, 1309 vaults have been built by Nubian vault (NV) masons and entrepreneurs, for 533 clients, in 244 locations (villages, hamlets, towns) in 3 countries (Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal)
- If all the vaults built were to be placed end-to-end, this would reach a total length of 9.7 km (Note: a standard vault, our unit of measurement, has internal dimensions of 7M long X 3,25 M wide)
- In total, 214 NV masons have been trained, of whom half are at the foreman and/or entrepreneur level; and there are currently 296 apprentices in training
- 10,000 people use, live in, or sleep in NV buildings; of the total built, 85% are for private houses, and 15% are community-use buildings.
- Approximately 18,000 trees, 25,000 tonnes of CO2-equivalent, and approximately 15,000 corrugated iron roofing sheets have been saved as a result of NV construction, as compared to the alternatives
- Approximately 750,000 Euros of local economic impacts have been generated by the program
- Since 2000 the program has experienced an average annual growth rate of 36%.

One of the most encouraging findings is that over one-third of the NV construction market is now completely autonomous and self-sustaining: 37% of NV clients are found directly by NV builders / entrepreneurs. Of the remainder, 40% come via a local intermediary or ’champion’, and only 23% via AVN itself. So, in the regions where AVN is active, we are well on the way to a growing and independent market in NV construction, permitting us - with your help -  to soon move on and target our resources in new regions.

The attached PDF file contains slides and images highlighting the above findings - feel free to download this and use to help explain to your friends and colleagues the impacts of our work.

PS Some other news - at the last meeting of the General Asembly of AVN, held in Septamber, I was elected President of the Association, with David Sillou, our IT specialist and strategy expert, as Vice-President.


Aug 24, 2011

A tribute from Canadian film-maker Brian Bragason

Brian Bragason
Brian Bragason

Toronto-based independent film maker Brian Bragason visited AVN in Burkina Faso and in France earlier this year. He is making a documentary celebrating the work of Laurie Baker, Hassan Fathy, and La Voute Nubienne, all visionaries in building affordable and environmentally sustainable architecture for the poor in the developing world. This is what he has to say about his experiences with AVN ..

“…On a recent trip to Burkina Faso I had the good fortune to visit the village of Boromo. To the uninformed observer, Boromo, located halfway between Ouagadougou and Bobo Dialasso, is a road stop. The passing traveler who stops here is bombarded by women selling refreshments that range from the most welcome (water/pop) to the comically inappropriate (bags of onions). Most travelers stop briefly for a refreshment, or a bag of onions, and move on. And yet if they do so they will miss experiencing one of the most exciting developments in social/self-help housing in the world today. For Boromo is the Burkina Faso headquarters of La Voute Nubienne, a non-profit agency dedicated to the transformation of housing in Africa.

Over the course of the last few years I’ve traveled the world researching environmentally friendly building for the poor as part of a documentary project. There are over 2 billion people in the world today living on less than $2 a day and providing decent housing for them is a real challenge. This challenge has vexed some of the best intentioned experts on earth. I shall not name them for fear of incriminating the guilty. The beauty of an organization like La Voute Nubienne is it does not put it’s faith in experts. It does not rely on governments. The dedicated crew running AVN does not believe in top-down solutions. They believe in people. They believe by giving people the expertise to build vaulted roofs and homes using easily found onsite materials you improve lives. And frankly after looking at the results I say they’re right.

In the last ten years AVN has been responsible for building hundreds of homes for mostly low income families in West Africa. Their innovation lies not just in the construction of vaulted roofs but in their approach. AVN is not interested in charity, they are not interested in giving away homes. Their interest lies in empowering people to change the course of their lives, whether it be through training masons in vault building techniques, or communal building, or facilitating the building of inexpensive, environmentally friendly housing.

AVN was born of the friendship of two men, both villagers, and both masons, Thomas Granier from Ganges, France and Seri Youlou from Boromo. Their experience in building comes from building with their own hands. And through their experience, they’ve simplified and standardized building techniques to teach a kind of engineering with the hands. Virtually anyone that goes through AVN’s training program can build a house. Thomas and Seri are aided by a capable crew of European and West African associates all of whom work for an African wage, or on a volunteer basis. And perhaps this is the most valuable lesson of AVN, not just that is has provided homes for thousands of poor people, but that a few good people from different cultures with a good idea and a great deal of drive can make a world of difference.

We’ve see the financial decisions coming out of New York, Brussels, Paris, London, Tokyo in recent years make a real mess. Perhaps we should instead rely on the wisdom coming from Ganges and Boromo for a pleasant change.”

We send Brian our best wishes for the final editing and succesful distribution of his film.


Aug 10, 2011

Good news from AVN-Mali

A Nubian vault chicken house, Dendjola village
A Nubian vault chicken house, Dendjola village

The first phase (Sept 2008 - August 2011) of the unrolling of AVN’s Program in Mali Août 2011, has now ended. It is the first regional program of its kind to be implemented outside Burkina Faso, and has included:
- a pilot test of the AVN pump-priming strategy (the Dendjola Pilot Village Deployment Program), helping to define local expectations and potential
- the setting up of AVN-Mali and the recruitment and training of an initial local management team
- the training of the first generation of NV masons in Mali (35 so far)
- the construction of 110 NV buildings (= 325 vaults, totaling 2,500 linear meters)
- the setting up of the first AVN ’franchise’ operation in Mali, with the NGO Terre et humanisme in Tacharane.

The full Annual Report from AVN-Mali (2010-11) is attached to this report. It is in French, but contains many photos.

The photo says it all ...  the children of Siaka Djiré (’champion’ of the Dendjola Program) have built an amazing Nubian Vault chicken-house entirely of their own accord (see photo). They must have spend a lot of time observing the AVN masons at work in the village, and decided to go ahead with a project of their own. What greater proof could there be that the NV technique has been incorporated into the local culture? And maybe these kids will form the next generation of NV masons in a few years’ time?

The second phase of the AVN-Mali Program will start in September 2011, and will involve the opening of new franchises, the development of the regional market in NV housing, and the evaluation of the final two years of the Dendjola Program.


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Project Leader

Tony Kaye

Milton Keynes, n/a United Kingdom

Where is this project located?

Map of Sustainable Housing for Rural Families in Africa