|The Basic of Biomass Roofing (GTZ - ITDG - SKAT - CRATerre-EAG, 1997, 36 p.)|
New investment must always be preceded by a feasibility study. Having reviewed relevant literature and taken local advice, a feasibility study about organic roofing should aim to give clear answers to the following topics. A step-by-step approach is recommended.
Market and economy
Is the building market able to accommodate a new or re-introduced roofing method?
Answers will depend on thorough market analysis including, in particular, the local building regulations. A key question is the market situation. Is it already dominated by comparable materials, such as corrugated iron or concrete tiles? A survey should be designed to interpret the attitudes of builders and house owners. Is there local resistance to re-introducing or modifying traditional biomass roofing techniques, and what can be done to change these ideas?
Technical aspects. Materials and equipment
Are the necessary materials available in sufficient quantity, or is it feasible to grow them or import them?
It may be that agricultural surpluses or by-products are inexpensive, but it is rare that the price will stay low once the supplier realises that they are the basis for a new industry. Feasibility calculations must assume that the materials supplier will always aim to maximise profit.
Some techniques may require import of materials, such as preservatives (for wood tiles), resins or asphalt (for roof sheets). In many countries the government may restrict foreign exchange allocations for exporters or for goods deemed to be of strategic importance. Roofing contractors are unlikely to get priority in times of scarcity.
Is equipment, and spare parts available?
Although roofing is labour intensive work, especially with biomass materials, processing always requires some capital equipment. Engineering skills may be needed to adapt harvesting equipment (for example, cereal harvesting equipment suitable for rice or wheat will almost certainly have to be adapted for cutting thatching grasses). Manufacturing equipment for asphalt roof sheets is available from many different suppliers, but few will have it available 'off-the-shelf'. Investment for this technology must be guided by very thorough research of both the manufacturing and marketing variables.
Skills and know-how
Are necessary skills available?
Roofing with biomass materials holds significant appeal for its employment generating opportunities. However, both the materials production and subsequent roofing work is often physically demanding and monotonous. If it is proposed to try to upgrade traditional techniques, of thatching for example, to meet new housing expectations, this may require foreign trainers and possibly a period of subsidy before the new technique is integrated in the local construction industry.
Business management skills are as important as technical skills because new or adapted technologies must be commercially viable.
Answering the ten key questions will require research which will cover many issues: socio-cultural, economic, technical, climatic and geographical, institutional and entrepreneurial, and the availability of skills and know-how. This information forms the basis for a feasibility study for:
· developing a strategy for upgrading existing methods of roofing with biomass materials or, alternatively,
· developing a programme to introduce biomass roofing technology into a new region.