In the UK we head to Jewsons or Travis Perkins to collect our red bricks that can be chamfered and furrowed to perfection. The clay material goes through a process of crushing, extrusion, pressing, chamber drying and furnace firing, then are packed and shipped to a builders merchants near you!
In Malawi the process is a more manually labour intensive and environmentally damaging.
The two most commonly used bricks in Malawi are sun-dried bricks and oven kiln dried bricks.
The first of these are made by mixing soil and water, putting this mix into a wooden brick shaped mould, then placing on the ground to dry in the sun. This is the cheapest method, and does not require any cutting of trees. However, as they have not been ‘cured’, these bricks are not tough or resistant to consistent rains, subsequently ‘melting’ when they get water saturated in the rains.
Oven dried bricks are the most common and popular brick in Malawi. These are red in colour and resistant to long bouts of bad weather. The initial process of making these bricks is the same, then after drying in the sun these bricks are made into a giant ‘kiln’, building the kiln takes skill- to ensure that the heat is evenly distributed. Holes are left to add fire, and the entire kiln is covered in mud to insulate and retain the heat, so the bricks can be cured by fire.
The problem is that in order to generate sufficient heat to cure the bricks (a big kiln can be as many as 100,000 bricks), all large trees in the area are cut. When we started teaching reforestation lessons at schools back in 2013, one thing our educators would comment on is that the only safe tree from being cut is the mango tree. A relief, as the mango tree provides food and finance in the ‘hunger season’, when crops are yet to be harvested. Sadly this is no longer the case. In the past 2 years we have evidenced increasing numbers of mature and heavy fruiting mango trees being cut for commercial brick kilns. 30 year old mango trees are frequently sold for as little as £10, an amount that would be made in one season of fruit sales for a heavy cropping tree.
The government has made the commercial application of wood fired kiln drying illegal, but this continues with little to no enforcement. Private kilns are an issue, but it is the commercial and large scale kilns that entirely decimate and strip the entire surroundings of all trees and wildlife habitat.
At Fisherman’s Rest we teach land owners the multiple benefits of trees and encourage sustainable use, forest growth and alternative brick sources. Large scale projects, like schools, halls, relief housing complexes, churches etc consume vast amounts of bricks, and therefore the most mature trees in the area. Our commitment is to inform and educate about the catastrophic impacts of stripping trees and promoting alternative sustainable bricks. All Fisherman’s Rest schools, libraries and toilet buildings are made from Hydraform soil and cement compressed bricks made at our onsite factory. These require no ‘firing’ and fit together like lego, reducing the consumption of cement. They also look good! If you know anyone involved in construction in Southern Africa, please do get them to check that through their building, they have not stripped an entire forest and to look at alternative brick sources.
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