Living in Sustainable Villages project

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Many ecovillages provide working examples of how to reinvigorate rural communities in areas facing depopulation due to demographic, economic and social decline. Their expertise in this area are now being recognised and shared with other communities in their home regions.

Project

The Living in Sustainable Villages project is run by GEN Germany in cooperation with local authorities in Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia and Baden-Württemberg. Five established ecovillages (Sieben Linden, Lebensgarten Steyerberg, Gastwerke Escherode, Schloss Tonndorf and Schloss Tempelhof) work in partnership with conventional communities negatively impacted by factors such as falling soil fertility, drinking water quality, biodiversity and aesthetic qualities of the landscape due to agricultural intensification, disappearance of traditional forms of employment forcing people to commute long distances or migrate to urban areas in search of work, pressures on general services, increasing numbers of vacant houses and overall aging of the population. All of these are leading to declines in the social, cultural and economic quality of village life.


Aim

Ecovillages work with their partner villages to develop a positive vision of their community's future, including factors such as revitalisation of village social life, retention and/or immigration of young people, strengthening local and regional economies and increasing employment, sustainable agriculture (including smallholder production and local marketing, increasing local and regional self-reliance in key areas such as energy production, and the revival of cultural traditions. They will then collaborate on making these visions a reality, creating a village sustainability plan and fostering the linkages, learning and mutual support among people, places and organisations necessary to implement the plan. It is hoped that this will lead to development of a transferable methodology and build capacity to support other villages inspired by the project to do similar work.[1]


Design state and collaborations

  • Schloss Tempelhof - supporting economic and social regeneration (TRANSIT case study)

Sicilia Integra is a linked educational and social development initiative developed by Gaia Education and the University of Catania in partnership with various local migrant welcome centres, organic farmers’ cooperatives and European ethical organic food companies. It aims to:

support the socio-economic integration of migrants arriving in Sicily through sustainable community and agroecology capacity-building activities with the view to creating an alternative trading platform for the commercialisation of Sicilian organic products in European markets. Furthermore the project aims to foster the professionalisation of migrants and unemployed youth, create new job opportunities in regenerative agriculture, while contributing to the development of a circular economy in Sicily.[2]


The project has run several iterations of its two-month training programme, consisting of a five-week Design for Sustainability and Organic Food Systems course followed by three weeks of field implementation. The course was evaluated highly by participants, who emphasised the importance of learning to collaborate and integrate their skills and interests with existing local social, economic and cultural traditions as part of a movement towards a multicultural future.[3] Graduates of the programme have set up their own enterprises in sustainable food production and marketing, often in collaboration with traditional producers and food manufacturers, and helped rehabilitate traditional infrastructure for small scale cultivation.[4] A key achievement has been establishment of Grani di Gaia, a new enterprise for the production and sale of pasta made from local ancient grains milled by traditional methods by a team of migrant trainees under the mentorship of a local master baker.[5] UNESCO has indentified Sicilia Integra as a flagship example of how Education for Sustainable Development can contribute to socio-economic integration of migrants.[6] The UN also flags it as an example implementation strategy for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG17 on partnerships for sustainability.[7] The project was nominated for the 2016 NGO Hero award run by the Guardian newspaper.[8]

Evaluation by academics associated with Catania University identifies Sicilia Integra as an example of best practice in strengthening sustainable agriculture and improving migrant integration within Sicily, with potential for export to countries experiencing high levels of labour immigration and/or dependent on migrant labour for agricultural production. In addition to enhancing the contributions of small-scale agriculture to sustainability and resilience in regional and national economies, and its wider social and economic benefits, researchers highlight the benefits of the approach to overcome marginalisation, social exclusion and violation of labour and human rights experienced by migrants and other vulnerable members of society.[9]

AndelsTanken Langelan (ATL), a sister project to Sicilia Integra, aims to promote sustainable regional development on the Danish island of Langeland via reinvigoration of the Danish tradition of cooperative enterprise in areas such as agroforestry, sustainable agriculture and education. An educational programme initiated in 2016 targeted local unemployed people, including a number of Eritrean refugees, who have since found employment in a local agroforestry business. Research on ATL identified it and Sicilia Integra as key examples of initiatives that can help support inclusive transitions to sustainability.[10]

References

  1. http://gen-deutschland.de/wp_gen/projekte/uba-projekt/. Accessed June 14th 2018.
  2. https://gaiaeducation.org/project-based-learning/siciliaintegra/. Accessed June 15th 2018.
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Tsp3yU0E5A. Accessed June 18th 2018.
  4. https://gaiaeducationblog.wordpress.com/ Accessed June 15th 2018.
  5. https://www.granidigaia.com/. Accessed June 15th 2018.
  6. https://en.unesco.org/news/sicilia-integra-esd-tool-socio-economic-integration-migrants. Accessed June 15th 2018.
  7. https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/partnership/?p=11763. Accessed June 15th 2018.
  8. https://witness.theguardian.com/assignment/58248f46e4b0506bc3016da9/5018122. Accessed June 15th 2018.
  9. Al Shamsi, K.B., Compagnoni, A., Timpanaro, G., Cosentino, S., Guarnaccia, P., 2018. A Sustainable Organic Production Model for “Food Sovereignty” in the United Arab Emirates and Sicily-Italy. Sustainability 10, 620. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10030620
  10. Steensberg, M., 2017. Citizenship in Sustainable Transition: a two-sided story about refugees and sustainability. Masters thesis. Lund University. http://lup.lub.lu.se/student-papers/record/8914997