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What we do - Solid Earth Africa
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Goals, short term

The following goals all represent tools needed for effectively marketing adobe for government, businesses, community groups, organizations and individuals in Ethiopia. Each goal can be measured so that we can know whether we are making good use of our time and our money.

  • GOAL: Shift program development, planning and implementation from Norway to co-workers in Ethiopia
  • GOAL: Increase public awareness around adobe and develop effective tools for marketing adobe as a high-quality building material.
  • GOAL: Produce a printed adobe “do-it-yourself building manual with accompanying video (DVD/memory stick)
  • GOAL: Ensure that there are locally available adobe trainers who can help self-builders without knowledge get started with the production of mud-blocks, and later on the building of their own durable and beautiful adobe house which will be a good advertisement for a new (yet ancient, but up-dated) building tradition.
  • GOAL: Initiate and follow-up pilot projects that can become a catalyst for others to choose to build their new house using adobe. Almost always, “seeing is believing”.
  • GOAL: Expand the number of model houses—understood in the most general sense of the word—and the number of geographical locations where adobe is being tried.
  • GOAL: Develop successful partnerships with local and central government agencies and Ethiopian non-governmental organizations to raise awareness so that they can develop implement wood-saving households programs
  • GOAL: Encourage progressive public policy that supports the transition from wood to adobe related to the following
    • Favorable financing in the form of loans- farmers can now access capital through SMTP2 which has given 99-year leases
    • Introduce adobe (concept of sustainability) into vocational school curriculums
    • Further develop sustainability in the CRGDP2/UN 2030 in the area of housing



SEA has been in a start-up and investment phase in Ethiopia. During the first years (2012-2014) most of our time, energy and a very small amount of money has been spent building up contacts, gathering information and experiences, all this to develop the adobe concept and starting to find effective ways to market adobe within different sectors of society. During the last few years we have become more operational, running training programs and building model houses. The following is a summary of achievements so far.

SEA has started to develop partnership with central government agencies.

During the past two years (2016-2017) SEA has invested a good deal of time in getting central government officials on-board. The focus has been on presenting adobe as a sustainable building material for the housing sector, a focus area that is given very little attention in the government’s ambitious Climate Resilient Growth and Transformation Plan (CRGDP II).

We have had an on-going dialogue with the Norwegian embassy that has facilitated productive conversations with key government leaders. Promoting the transition from wood to adobe is an initiative which can help the Ethiopian government realize their own ambitious economic and environmental protection goals as formulated in their CRGDP II. Ethiopia is committed to achieving economic growth within a framework of environmental sustainability. More than anyone else, they are aware of the far-reaching consequences of deforestation and soil erosion for their growing population.

What Ethiopia needs is good public policy that can provide a framework which encourages and rewards both individual homeowners as well as tradesmen and contractors who choose adobe instead of wood. SEA’s new national coordinator in Addis, Solomon Alemu, has worked as a senior advisor in the Ministry of Energy and Water. Solomon is well orientated in what is happening in government. During the coming year, he will be a steady voice in to government, marketing adobe as a key element in helping Ethiopians make the transition from wood to adobe.

SEA has started to develop a national Ethiopian organization.

We have begun the process of applying to register an Ethiopian chapter of SEA. A steering committee of SEA supporters is in place. This group includes senior advisors who have a wide variety of experience in business, government, education, NGO’s and churches.

There’s only so much a group of dedicated and enthusiastic Northerners can do to make a good “map” which can show the way to a more sustainable building tradition. Early on we have realized that it is Ethiopians who know their country, government, traditions etc. They know their own terrain and are the ones who can adjust the adobe “map” to fit the terrain. SEA Norway’s major focus for the past two years (2016-2017) has been to shift program development, planning and implementation from Norway to Ethiopia. By Fall 2017 an Ethiopian sister organization, Solid Earth Africa – Ethiopia, will be in place. SEE will:

  1. adapt and further develop SEA’s adobe house concept locally
  2. develop an effective Ethiopian marketing strategy to promote adobe
  3. become financially self-sustaining by 2022.
SEA has started to develop partnerships with local government agencies in Durame and Ambo.

We are working towards establishing limited pilot projects through existing government agencies such as the Department of Agriculture. Starting in November 2016, SEA Norway began to develop an excellent relationship with the chief administrator for the Kembatta Tambaro Zone within the SNSP region in south-central Ethiopia. This regional government has close ties to Gogata Care, a large farmers’ organization. They have expressed interest in using their resources to start a small pilot project based on the experiences and building skills developed by the Golden Hands communities linked to the 3 model houses built in Durame through KMG.

SEA has established what has become its most important partnership with the Challia Building and Trades School, owned by the Mekane Yesus Lutheran Church (EECMY).

The Challia Building and Trades School (CBTS) has more than 20 years’ experience in developing the adobe building technique. The challenge has been to find a design balance between high quality and—most importantly—affordability. CBTS has given particular attention to designing adequate foundations which are affordable for ordinary people. Stone or concrete foundations are much too expensive. CBTS has been so successful that adobe has become the preferred building material for new houses in Challiya. At the same time the BTS has demonstrated that adobe can be combined with fired brick as well with a steel-reinforced concrete framework. Further technical development of this combination is needed in connection with the government’s condominium program starting in 2014, Challiya BTS has hosted 4 adobe training courses for SEA-supported groups from Ambo and Durame. The Mekane Yesus Lutheran Church’s development arm, DASSC, has many years of experience building with adobe. Unfortunately, they have done little to document and follow-up these valuable experiences. During the last half of 2017, SEA (Yohannes and Solomon) will start to do a systematic study that documents what adobe buildings have been built, where they are located, and particularly what the attitudes of both owners and neighbors are. These buildings and houses are truly “model houses”, though their full potential as marketing tools has not been exploited. We hope to enter into an agreement with the EECMY during 2018. SEA’s contribution in Ethiopia is largely to focus in a sustained way on the adobe house as the key to household-based development for ordinary Ethiopians. The key to SEA’s focus on adobe is to actively and systematically promote adobe as a high quality and affordable building material with significant environmental benefits. Promoting adobe means building model houses, training on how to build with adobe, providing technical support. But most importantly it means promoting discussions in communities where there are adobe houses. This is what is called community conversation.

SEA’s local staff has assisted individual homeowners and organizations who have built and financed adobe houses and buildings.

SEA’s local coordinator in the Ambo area has worked hard to follow-up a farmer interested in adobe (Senkelle Farris), a small milling cooperative led by a member of the AAGDP network (Almaz Ashene in Ambo Town), and a larger administration building built with adobe in Idjaji. There it was the Mekane Yesus Lutheran Church synod that decided to refresh their previous interest in promoting adobe through their church network of congregations. All three of these buildings provide a good opportunity for community conversation. What do neighbors think? What do they see as the benefits? The weaknesses? Yohannes is there to help encourage and follow-up those who express interest in building, including planning, technical support and some building-site supervision.

SEA has developed successful partnerships with several very different Ethiopian organizations who are in the process of developing a wood-saving households program

Link to partners

SEA has established a national office with a country coordinator in Addis Ababa, as well as two regional offices with local coordinators in Ambo and Durame.

In April 2017 SEA Norway appointed Solomon Alemu, a long-time SEA volunteer living in the capital, Addis Ababa, as the Country Coordinator for SEA in Ethiopia. For the past two years, SEA has been working actively with a lawyer and several senior advisors from within the NGO community to find a way to register a sister organization with the Ethiopian Department of Civil Charities. The challenge has been that SEA’s fundamental principles do not easily align with traditional development models. We don’t want to be a major donor. Nor do we want to be an implementer whose work is to build adobe houses. SEA is a networking and marketing organization whose goal is to make adobe the preferred building material for new houses that Ethiopian homeowners build and pay for themselves! With the appointment of Solomon Alemu in a centrally located office in Addis, it will be much easier to continue the process of dialogue with the Charities Office to find the best way to register Solid Earth Ethiopia (SEE). A group of SEA supporters is already in place and acting as an informal support for Solomon (General Assembly). From this group, a Board of Directors will be elected, hopefully during 2018. For the time being, Solomon continues to answer to SEA Norway.


Long term outcome

Starting with an adobe house, thousands of Ethiopian households become engines for resilient economic growth, individual and group empowerment, and forest protection. The adobe house becomes a kind of hub for a wood-saving household which, over time, makes investing money in a variety of other home-improvements possible.

When adobe houses replace wood houses, one of the most important results is reduced pressure on Ethiopia’s remaining forests. For our global climate, each adobe house translates into trees that do not need to be cut down, trees that can capture and hold CO2. Deforestation has an impact on both individual Ethiopians  as well as Ethiopian society and the Ethiopian government as a whole. While the following outcomes cannot easily be neatly divided along these lines, the indivual-collective axis is worth keeping in mind.


  • Adobe houses replace the wood houses which traditionally have put pressure on Ethiopia’s forests. More adobe houses mean more trees that can capture CO2, a global climate goal which the Ethiopian government has committed to.
  • Building wood-saving adobe cook stoves with chimneys results in using less wood for making food and getting smoke out of the house. This means reduced deforestation and reduced eye and lung diseases, the two most significant health problems for women and children.
  • Adobe latrines—built into the house or separate—result in better sanitation which in turn means better health
  • Reduced deforestation and erosion are two key factors linked to the pressing need for food security for a rapidly growing population. It is estimated that even if all measures to reduce erosion are that are currently being considered are implemented, the average number of calories/person/day from agriculture will drop by more than 40% in the next 30 years. This will mean starvation for the poorest. This is the really ugly face of deforestation. Adobe houses mean more roots that can hold on to the soil that is needed to grow food!
  • An adobe house that last 3-5 times longer than a traditional wood houses translates, in the long term, into dramatically improved increased disposable income. This is one of the keys to reducing migration to Europe. It is also the major goal of the Ethiopian government’s CRGDP2 program for sustainable economic development. Ethiopia has accepted the UN’s Agenda 2030 sustainable development goals as a framework for its ambition to become a middle-income country in Africa by the year 2025.
  • Increased disposable income can be used to invest in a variety of home improvements that benefit particularly women, children (who spend more time in the house than men), as well as the environment.
    • Inexpensive solar panels designed for small houses produce electricity that makes it possible for children to do their homework. Solar generated electricity is also more cost-effective than grid-based electricity which is capital intensive and takes much longer to develop.
    • The daily task of carrying enough water for the family household is a particular burden for women and children. A cistern that collects rainwater can ease the load for parts of the year where there is rain.
    • Bio-gas generators use human and animal excrement to produce methane which can be used to cook food
  • In certain parts of Ethiopia, building with adobe has created new businesses and cooperatives that produce adobe blocks for sale. This creates employment opportunities that help people earn a living.

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