Growing edible housing, for the urban poor in the tropics.
I put this in projects, because it's something that is already somewhat in motion, as I am searching for the place where I will do this. I'll be in the Philippines in a couple weeks and be able to search out some of the parts.
There are many quick growing trees
in tropical countries that can be fashioned into living shelters
that are ready to occupy within one year. Many have edible leaves or fruit
They won't be totally watertight or windproof, but a vast improvement over the conditions that some are living in.
In homeless camps or squatter camps or whatever they are called from place to place, people
often toss together whatever free resources are at hand. This can be cardboard
and pallet material mixed with anything else found in the waste stream. They nail or tie it together and cover it with whatever piece of plastic or tarp can be found. Sometimes banana leaves are incorporated. I've seen some quite serviceable little houses made out of this junk. All of the camps that I saw, were on land
that is waiting for development. Owners will sometimes let people squat there, but they generally don't want them to build concrete
block houses or anything else that might give them a claim to the land. The one closest to me had goats, cattle
and chickens grazing, vegetable gardens, laundry hanging, bathing facilities and water
piped in by the city
. So not the really horrific sort of mess you see in places like Nairobi or Sao Paulo.
But the housing is generally shit. That's what the people can afford.
Sometimes on hot days, children, dogs and goats will crawl into the hollow spots inside big bushes. The kids climb and play around, while I think
the livestock are just there to avoid the heat. If rain hits suddenly, these bushes provide shelter. There are many types of tree and bush that naturally shed water to the drip line.
So it's really just a matter of planning the growth of the right type of trees and vines, to provide a useful enclosed space that is out of the sun, that catches much less rain than the surrounding terrain and that blocks wind. There's quite a variety of food producing trees and vines that could be used.
They could be built square or circular. Many plants naturally find a circular shape. But if you use rows of small trees, they can be laid out in whatever shape is desired. Once the trees are 15 feet high and two or three inch diameter, the tops could be laced together and vines could grow to fill in the walls. This already happens in nature. But it would be nice
to choose the size of the enclosed space along with the type of tree and vine.
Moringa trees can make 20 feet high in one year. They produce some of the most nutritious plant material available anywhere on the planet. The seed
pods have eight times more vitamin C than oranges. The leaves are high in protein and many vitamins and minerals. When leaves are cut back, they come back within a month. An area of 100 square feet of moringa leaf is enough
to keep a family in healthy greens.
Neem trees are naturally repellent to mosquitoes and some other bugs. The fruits are edible and the oil from mature fruits can be used for cooking. They are a very strong tree that lives a long time, but they also grow quickly in the beginning.
Cinnamon is very quick growing. It provides a nice spice but you don't need much of it, so it would provide something that can be easily harvested and sold on a regular basis.
The list of vining foods, is quite extensive. String beans, loofah, bitter gourd, passion fruit, starfruit a bunch of other little fruits that grow on vines that I don't know the name of, tomatoes
and probably many more things.
Once the moringa and neem trees are a few inches around, they can be used to support some of the lighter vines. After about three years, they can support quite heavy vines. Bamboo poles or sisal rope tied between the trees, would aid in getting better coverage.
It doesn't have to have a dirt floor. Bamboo is very cheap and floors of bamboo houses are made from large rounds as beams and then split bamboo is used to make the floorboards. The floor could be set on concrete blocks that are worth $0.25 each. This keeps bedding and everything else off of the damp soil.
There can be a simple roof, inside the enclosed space. Something as simple as a tarp that is stretched out and tied to the trees. It would be given a little bit of slope. Walls made out of bamboo panels or tarps could also be attached to the inside of the living walls. Bamboo walls really cut down on the amount of wind that infiltrates.
This would give a small house that stays fairly cool, compared to the tin roof shacks and junk piles that currently block the sun but get oven
hot. It would provide a dry floor, wind protection and rain protection. And it would provide food. Lots of food if managed properly.
Typhoons. Typhoons are a risk every year in Cebu Philippines where I lived for a couple months and where I'm headed in 2 weeks. Almost all new construction is being done with steel-reinforced concrete block, because it stands up quite well. Older style bamboo and coconut wood
houses are vulnerable. But by far the most vulnerable are the squatter camps made from junk where there is no real attempt to attach them to the ground. They are held in place by gravity and a few stakes.
Compact buildings made out of trees and laced together with vines, would have many anchor points. It would never give 100% protection, but would be anchored much more securely than anything else I've seen in the squatter camps. A house like this could even take a pretty solid hit from windborne junk. Once the trees are 4-inch diameter with 2-inch vines lacing them together, they would be one of the most solid natural structures and very difficult to blow away. Imagine an igloo shape built this way, having trees laced together with vines. It would be hard to pull it down with a dump truck.
I'm shopping for land in a few weeks. No matter where I end up, I am going to try this on my farm. Some of mine will be animal shelters and some will be set up as described for camping and to accommodate temporary workers. I will allow local
officialdom to come and have a look, to see if they would be interested in providing a place where we could do it for the poorest people. This is something that I would expect to cost 25 American dollars per unit.
Harvesting food. Many of the fruits I've described will naturally hang down into the space, just like they do when you build a bean frame. Some, like tomatoes would have to be harvested from the outside. Moringa leaf and pods could be harvested by kids who climb up on the structure after a few years, or harvested using a bamboo pole with a hook knife, a very common item.
Jungle gym. Kids are going to climb this, and it's probably the safest place they could be, since there's no danger of falling very far and most spots would provide a fairly soft-landing. Kids do some very dangerous stuff in these camps, so I wouldn't be a bit concerned about safety. I imagine their mothers would give them a wicker basket and send them up on the roof to see what is ready to harvest. Some things like passion fruit, naturally drop off when ready, so you just have to quickly gather them up before the pig gets to them. Say we cover 200 square feet to enclose a small house. That's going to create quite a large dome, if neem, moringa and various vines are allowed to migrate 3 feet out from that. Just about everybody has a hook knife or machete that could be used to maintain the shape and balance of trees.
Managing shade. Within a couple of months a structure like this would be cooler than many of the current shelters. The neem trees and moringa to a lesser extent , might tend to shade out the fruit and vegetables below. The neem could be managed as small coppice so that it doesn't send much up above the main structure. It is desirable to cattle and goats. That way sunlight would still reach the lower walls, to keep everything in leaf and to allow fruits to develop.
. There is a dry season. Bathing and laundry water could be dumped wherever needed.
Grade. We'd want to build each unit on a small mound of soil, so that the floor never floods.
It may prove to be too dark and gloomy in these shelters during the worst of the rainy season. But when it's blistering hot, something like this would be a great refuge from that heat.
I'm going to try to get to a few farms and maybe to some plant nurseries
as I investigate this further. I'm hoping to make a number of living structures both as shelter and for bridge making and some things just for fun.