I have been in India for about five weeks in the village of Saurath, Bihar, which is very close to Nepal. Recently we finished a survey on housing expenses in the village to understand the economic capability and material expectations of villagers who want to build a new house in the near future. This will help us to set the right price for the prototype.
There are mainly two kinds of housing in Saurath – kacha (temporary) and pukka (permanent). Our main customers for new housing construction are those who are in the transition from kacha house to pukka house.
Some may be saving money for a new house and they can take out loans from the bank. Many of the villagers depend on a migrant remittance. A few have already built part of their dream house with bricks and are going to finish the rest when it is economically viable.
The survey suggests that mud and bamboo (wattle and daub) are used for a kacha house, which is relatively cheap but requires annually maintenance for the roof and walls. Some of these kacha houses were constructed thirty years ago; thus, they are actually not so “temporary”. In comparison, the image of a pukka house is always related to burnt brick and concrete. Some of the “semi-pukka” houses may have corrugated fiber cement roofs while other more improved houses may have flat RCC roofs. One thing that is similar is that people do not have to maintain them.
In my last report, I mentioned that there have been hardly any perception changes among the villagers about possibly using new construction materials. Among the villagers we have surveyed, those who want to build a new home all want a pukka (permanent) house which is conceptually ingrained to be made of burnt brick and concrete.
Upon reflection, we are taking a leap if we directly promote mud brick housing construction in the village because there is no one producing mud brick here. In contrast, there are about eight brick kilns surrounding Saurath and burnt bricks can be easily purchased. Thus, our new strategy is to make a business model for mud brick production in the village.
In the short term, this will provide job opportunities for the villagers and it can be part of Drishtee’s training program. In the long term, with the easy availability of mud bricks in the village and more education about mud bricks, hopefully people will gradually start to accept the new material and eventually build their homes with it.
Our plan is to compare the unit cost of production for burnt bricks vs mud bricks. The assumption is that because of the partnership model between Drishtee and the community, we can prove that the unit cost of mud brick production is cheaper than burnt bricks and thus it would be cheaper to build a house with mud bricks. After this, a business model can be proposed to the government and to potential partners.
Due to the constant rain, we still need more data for the housing expense survey. We are also preparing a burnt bricks kilns survey for distribution around the village. Meanwhile, we are reaching out to two organizations – “Build Up Nepal” and “Hunnarshala” – to understand more about their operational models for mud brick production.