three refugees presenting their mushroom harvest from regenerative agriculture

How Restoration with Refugees can Contribute to all SDGs

By applying regenerative practices in refugee camps and settlements, the restoration of ecosystems with refugees has the potential to contribute to the achievement of all 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

End Poverty in all its Forms Everywhere

One in every 97 people in the world is now displaced, a refugee or migrant. It is estimated, that by 2030 up to two-third of the global extreme poor may be living in fragile and conflict-affected situations[i]. Promoting ecological restoration can enable income generation through e.g., renewable energies, sustainable agriculture as well as the natural production of e.g., cosmetics.

End Hunger, Achieve Food Security and Improved Nutrition and Promote Sustainable Agriculture

Around 811 million people around the world are currently going hungry.[ii] The food supply for people on the run is particularly critical. By 2050, more than 200 million people could be forced to leave their homes.[iii]. Regenerative agriculture can contribute to greater food security, reduce supply dependency, and increase nutritional value.

Ensure Healthy Lives and Promote Well-being for All at All Ages

1.8 billion adolescents and youth (ages 10-24) will fall short of potential if current policy and investment approaches fail to meet their needs in health and well-being[iv]. Ecological restoration and soil health is linked to human health[v]. In addition to the potential for quality nutrition, permaculture gardening can contribute to mental health, as being out in nature has a very positive influence on emotional well-being[vi].

Ensure Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education and Promote Lifelong Learning Opportunities for All

The world was already facing a learning crisis before Covid-19, with nearly 6 out of every 10-year-old in low- and middle-income countries suffering from learning poverty.[vii] Ecological restoration can provide opportunities for qualifying education, capacity building including training in sustainable land management and biodiversity conservation e.g., in permaculture courses, train-the-trainer programs and peer-learning-groups.

Achieve Gender Equality and Empower All Women and Girls

Women make up 43 percent of the global agricultural labor force, yet they face significant discrimination when it comes to e.g., land and livestock ownership as well as equal pay.[viii] Ecological restoration can promote gender equality by creating opportunities for women´s participation in e.g., decision-making processes.[ix]. It also reduces the risk of women being exposed to violence in the camps, as they are absent because they are on long trips to collect wood.

In most of the existing regenerative projects in refugee camps, women and youth make up more than half of the beneficiaries.

Ensure Availability and Sustainable Management of Water and Sanitation for All

In Africa alone, by 2030, about 250 million people may experience high water stress, with up to 700 million people displaced as a result.[x] Every day, more than 1,000 children under the age of five die worldwide from diseases caused by contaminated water, lack of sanitation and poor hygiene[xi]. Regenerative practices can help provide clean water and sanitation, for example with water catchment techniques, organic farming that does not poison the groundwater with pesticides, and compost or “Ecosan” toilets using human waste as fertilizer for farming.

Ensure Access to Affordable, Reliable, Sustainable, and Modern Energy for All

Although the global electricity access rate increased from 83% to 90% between 2010 and 2019, bringing electricity to 1.1 billion people for the first time, there are hundreds of millions still without electricity, especially in sub-Saharan Africa[xii].

In 2017, at least 34 million people gained access to basic electricity services through off-grid technologies[xiii]. Off-grid solar energy solutions can offer immediate access to affordable, clean, and reliable electricity in places that are hard to supply[xiv].

Renewable energy lifts people from poverty. In India, distributed solar panels brought electricity to 650 million people between 1981 and 2011[xv]. This led to increased literacy among girls, resulting in fewer children per woman in subsequent generations. Despite a carbon cost of one third of a ton CO2/year/person, renewable energy replaced fossil fuels and fueled India’s solar industry.

Promote Sustained, Inclusive and Sustainable Economic Growth, Full and Productive Employment and Decent Work for All

A 2021 report from UNEP states that “…71 million unemployed youth are currently struggling to find a job”. The report goes on to say that, with the relevant skills and training, “the transition to a green economy will add an estimated 60 million new jobs to the market by 2030”[xvi]. In this way, good jobs are created, and an economic development of camps population is enabled.

Build Resilient Infrastructure, Promote Inclusive and Sustainable Industrialization and Foster Innovation

The Covid 19 pandemic hit the processing industry harder than the global financial crisis of 2007-2009 and led to a 6.8 percent drop in production in 2020[xvii]. Additionally to the positive local effects on jobs, developing regenerative solutions with e.g., carbon credit projects, biodiversity offsets, as well as possibilities for ecotourism create even more economic growth opportunities. Regenerative innovation like mushroom production or circular waste management can improve camps’ infrastructure. The restoration of ecosystems improves their capacity and therefor the “green” infrastructure as a basis for social and technological innovative strength.

Reduce Inequality Within and Among Countries

Africa emits less than 2-3% of current global carbon emissions[xviii]. In contrast, China emitted 30,9% and the United States emitted 13,49% of the world`s carbon dioxide in 2021[xix]. Over 1.3 billion people, mostly in the developing countries, are trapped on degrading agricultural land, exposed to climate stress.[xx] Regenerative practices can help reduce inequalities by restoring degraded lands and ecosystems in marginalized and vulnerable communities. As Ecosystem Restoration projects are mainly based on participation and inclusion, they also reduce inequalities and dependencies, e.g., on food supply.

Make Cities and Human Settlements Inclusive, Safe, Resilient, and Sustainable

Worldwide, more than one billion of the urban population live in slums, primarily in the three regions of East and Southeast Asia (370 million), Sub-Saharan Africa (238 million), and Central and South Asia (226 million)[xxi]. Many of them are displaced in their own land. A study on malnutrition among urban slum children in Bangladesh shows that 51.1% of children suffer from severe malnutrition[xxii]. Climate-smart agriculture in urban and peri-urban areas, which is also a source of employment and income, has the potential to improve nutrition and food security for disadvantaged urban population[xxiii]. Future refugee camps and settlements can be designed as sustainable cities in the first place with infrastructures that foster self-reliance rather than dependency, like for example urban gardening.

Ensure Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns

The global material footprint grew by 70 percent between 2000 and 2017[xxiv]. Currently, about 40-60% of all armed conflicts within states are either triggered by conflicts over resources or are fought over them[xxv]. In 2019, each person generated approximately 7.3 kg of e-waste, of which only 1.7 kg was properly disposed[xxvi]. Due to these devastating numbers, it is more than urgent to change to more responsible consumption patterns.

Ecological restoration as a practice has the potential to make people rethink their relationship with nature and become more connected to nature[xxvii]. Circular solutions in regenerative design could help develop a more responsible consumption behaviour.

Take Urgent Action to Combat Climate Change and its Impacts

By 2030, half the continent of Africa could be displaced because of climate change[xxviii]. Regenerative farming techniques sequester more climate-impacting green-house gases (like CO2) than they emit, thus being an important step for climate action. Among “natural climate solutions,” soil carbon could account for 25 percent in the future, estimates a study in Nature Sustainability[xxix]. According to the study, they would offset six gigatons of CO₂ each year[xxx]. That’s more than all the U.S. emissions.

Organic farming reduces the burden on the environment and thus saves society high costs. A recent study by the Technical University of Munich puts the cost savings due to lower nitrogen and greenhouse gas emissions at 750 to 800 Euros per hectare per year compared to conventional farming[xxxi].

Conserve and Sustainably Use the Oceans, Seas and Marine Resources for Sustainable Development

More than 3.3 billion people obtain at least one-fifth of their animal protein from aquatic food. The importance of marine fish for the coastal population in developing countries and for the inhabitants of small island states is even higher[xxxii]. Many ecosystem services provided by the ocean are now threatened by over-exploitation, pollution, and greenhouse gases. Life under water can be spared and improved if, due to ecological agricultural management, soils and groundwater are protected from harmful chemical substances.

Protect, Restore and Promote Sustainable Use of Terrestrial Ecosystems, Sustainably Manage Forests, Combat Desertification, and Halt and Reverse Land Degradation and Halt Biodiversity Loss

Up to 40 per cent of the global land area is already degraded[xxxiii]. Ecosystem services are worth about twice as much as the total economic services that humans provide. The global gross domestic product is about US$ 96 trillion. In contrast, the value of what nature provides to humanity corresponds to about US$ 150 to 200 trillion per year[xxxiv]. Sustainably managed farms and forests can combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. Biodiversity flourishes through regenerative farming approaches like agroforestry, for example because the cropping is more diverse.

Promote Peaceful and Inclusive Societies for Sustainable Development, Provide Access to Justice for All and Build Effective, Accountable and Inclusive Institutions at All Levels

At the end of 2020, about 1 percent of the world’s population – 82.4 million people – had been displaced because of persecution, conflict, or generalized violence[xxxv]. In 2020, 5 civilians were killed for every 100,000 people in armed conflicts, one seventh of them were women or children[xxxvi]. Introducing holistic regenerative thinking in camp design can be especially valuable as there is a proven linkage between education and promoting peace, social cohesion, and sustainable development[xxxvii]. Regenerative design includes participation and peace building, as reflected in the ethical principles of permaculture[xxxviii]. The involvement of refugees as well as host  communities can reduce prejudices and social tensions and thus build the basis for positive relationships.

Strengthen the Means of Implementation and Revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development

There is a funding gap of €2.5 trillion for achieving the 17 SDGs by 2030[xxxix]. Foreign direct investment, especially in poorer regions, fell by up to 40 percent in 2020, to below USD 1 trillion for the first time since 2005 (2019: USD 1.5 trillion)[xl]. This calls for even more cooperation and partnership to achieve a sustainable development. Regenerative practices for nature-based solutions work in a spirit of cooperation instead of competition and focus on learning from each other. They are establishing international collaborations and partnerships to move forward and achieve goals.

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References (Introduction)

[i] World Bank (2020): Fragility and Conflict: On the Front Lines oft he Fight against Poverty.

[ii] Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (bpb) (2021): Internationaler Tag für die Beseitigung der Armut. Rubrik: kurz&knapp.

[iii] Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (BMZ) (2022): Folgen des Klimawandels.,k%C3%B6nnte%20die%20Hungersnot%20weiter%20verst%C3%A4rken.

[iv] Partnership for Maternal, Newborn&Child Health (PMNCH) (n.d.): PMNCH for Women´s, Children`s and Adolescent´s Health. 1.8 Billion Young People for Change Campaign and The Global Forum for Adolescents.

[v] Hicks, Suzanne (2022): „We planted a forest!“ The mental health benefits of ecological restoration: a pilot study.

[vi] Hicks, Suzanne (2022): „We planted a forest!“ The mental health benefits of ecological restoration: a pilot study.

[vii] World Bank (2022): The State of Global Learning Poverty. 2022 Update. (P. 7).

[viii] Food and Agriculture Organization oft he United Nations (FAO) (n.d.): Reduce Rural Poverty.

References (SDG 1-9)

[ix] Akter et al. (2017): Women´s empowerment and gender equity in agriculture. A different perspective from Southeast Asia. In: Food Policy. Vol. 69. P. 270-279.

[x] IPCC Working Group II (2022). In: The Great Change. A Human Tsunami. Migration of the dsplaced as an Anthroposcene augury. Albert Bates.

[xi] Unicef (2022): Dreifache Wasserkrise gefährdet das Leben von 190 Millionen Kindern. Pressemitteilung vom 20.03.2023.

[xii] United Nations (2021): Ziele für nachhaltige Entwicklung. Bericht 2021. S. 40.

[xiii] International Institute for Sustainable Development (2019): SDG 7 Report Warns 650 Million People Could Lack Electricity Access in 2030 Without Sustained Effort.

[xiv] Nuno, Andreia (2022): Solar power for rural Africa. A scaled up off-grid model transforms access to solar power in rural Africa.

[xv] The Economic Times (2014): Access to electricity in India has no impact on climate change.

[xvi] Umweltprogramm der Vereinten Nationen (UNEP) (2021): Global Guidance for Education on Green Jobs. Connecting Higher Education and Green Opportunities for Planetary Health. (P. 2).

[xvii] United Nations (2021): Ziele für nachhaltige Entwicklung. Bericht 2021. S. 44.

[xviii] United Nations for UN Climate Change Conference Nairobi 2006 (2006): United Nations Fact Sheet on Climate Change. Africa is particularly vulnerable to the expected impacts of global warming.

[xix] Statista (2023): CO2-Ausstoß weltwei nach Länder.,wesentlich%20zum%20CO2%2DAussto%C3%9F%20bei.

[xx] Kempf, Isabell (o. D.): Poverty and the environment/climate change.

[xxi] United Nations (2021): Ziele für nachhaltige Entwicklung. Bericht 2021. S. 48.

[xxii] Fakir, Adnan MS; Khan, M Wasiqur Rahman (2015): Determinants of malnutrition among urban slum children in Bangladesh. In: Health Economics Review 5, Article number 22.

[xxiii] UN System Standing Committee on Nutrition (n.d.): UNSCN Statement. Nutrition Security of urban populations.

[xxiv] United Nations (2021): Ziele für nachhaltige Entwicklung. Bericht 2021. S. 50.

References (SDG 10-12)

[xxv] United Nations Peacekeeping (n.d.): Conflict and Natural Resources. and Forum Nachhaltig Wirtschaften (o. D.): Reiche und Mächtige palaver – Arme sterben.

[xxvi] United Nations (2021): Ziele für nachhaltige Entwicklung. Bericht 2021. S. 51.

[xxvii] Furness, Ella (2021): How participants in ecological restoration can foster a connection to nature. In: Restoration Ecology Vol. 29, No. 7, e13430.

[xxviii] Raulerson, Matt (2023): Climate Displacement. In: Climate Refugees.

[xxix] Bossio et al. (2020): The role of soil carbon in natural climate solutions. In: Nature Sustainability 3, 391-398.

[xxx] Fischer, Tin; Knuth, Hannah (2023): Greenwashing in der afrikanischen Savanne. In: Zeit-Online.

[xxxi] Hülsbergen et al. (2023): Umwelt- und Klimawirkungen des ökologischen Landbaus. In: Kurt-Jürgen Hülsbergen (Hg.): Weihenstephaner Schriften. Ökologischer Landbau und Pflanzenbausysteme. Bd. 16.

[xxxii] World Ocean Review (2021): Nahrung aus dem Meer. In: WOR 7. Lebensgarant Ozean.

[xxxiii] United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (2022): Chronic land degradation: UN offers stark warnings and practical remedies in Global Land Outlook 2.

[xxxiv] Tagesschau (2022): Interview mit Volker Mosbrugger: UN-Biodiversitätskonferenz. „Geht um Erhalt unserer Lebensgrundlage“. Tagesschau Online vom 07.12.2022.

References (SDG 13-17)

[xxxv] United Nations (2021): Ziele für nachhaltige Entwicklung. Bericht 2021. S. 58. [xxxvi] United Nations (2021): Ziele für nachhaltige Entwicklung. Bericht 2021. S. 59. [xxxvii] Smith, Ellison C. (2012): The role of education in peacebuilding: an analysis of five change theories in Sierra Leone. In: COMPARE, 10.108. [xxxviii] Permaculture Principles (n.d.): Permaculture Ethics. [xxxix] OECD (n.d.): COVID-19 crisis threatens Sustainable Development Goals financing. [xl] United Nations (2021): Ziele für nachhaltige Entwicklung. Bericht 2021. S. 60.


Proud of the harvest: Beatrice, Celestin and Daniel from the mushroom production group “Malisho Bora”, trained by the Rwamwanja Rural Foundation (RRF) in the refugee settlement of Rwamwanja in Uganda.
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