Permaculture Education Program for Refugees and NGOs

Good Practices

Permaculture Education Program for Refugees and NGOs

People sitting in a circle in a tent

Class of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

The project in brief

The project is implemented by Permaculture For Refugees (P4R) around the world. 

In September 2016, we began by envisioning a comprehensive global model of bringing permaculture to refugee situations, and set up a social media page and website; in 2018 we sought funding, designed curriculum, adapted materials and prepared teachers. Then in 2019  we ran a pilot program in five sites in four countries, extending later to two more countries. Courses continue for refugees in Bangladesh, Spain and Greece as a result of the valuable outcomes.

The final Outcomes Report for the pilot program, Permaculture Works with Refugees, was written and distributed in 2022, and positive results continue to come in from additional courses that followed in two more countries, Malaysia and The Philippines. Locally taught courses continue for refugees in Bangladesh, Malaysia, Iraq, Spain and Greece as a result of positive outcomes. Overall, the project is on-going because the needs are so large and urgent. 

Permaculture courses for refugees teach the ethics and principles for design to meet basic needs for food, energy, water and shelter, while addressing their concerns for self-determination and income. 

Ongoing NGO and local engagement - ensured by including NGO staff and local citizens in all classes with refugees - fosters sharing, builds local expertise, access to resources, cultural commonality, and establishes continuity of permaculture work in camps, and buffers the impacts from disasters such as COVID-19 and fires. 

The main goal of the program is to transform refugee camps into sustainable ecological villages with enhanced levels of self-sufficiency, refugee integration with the local community, and greater ability to withstand disaster.  

The pilot program, offered across several climate bioregions, cultural and religious states with refugees and NGO staff, sought to ascertain whether permaculture was a ‘global’ fit under diverse climates, cultures and conditions. 

To achieve this, there were several aims:

  1. Establish whether permaculture was wanted and acceptable to refugees from a range of climates, education, gender, ages and faiths.
  2. Record how they used the knowledge and skills.
  3. Estimate on-going impacts on camps and elsewhere.
  4. Identify key elements to enable the project to be globally transferable.

To fulfil the original overarching goal of transforming camps and settlements, P4R now recommends training all NGO staff engaged with refugees in permaculture, and to train refugees to train in their communities. This will ensure sustainability of the program via a wide network at many intervention points.

Main activities of the Good Practice


Local NGOs (or INGO) working in camps contacted to discuss the potential value of permaculture for their situation, who then issued an invitation to P4R to undertake the course. Two P4R members were invited to teach and share the experience.

Materials were sent in advance for translation into local languages, also requests for resources required for the training, e.g. local seed or compost.

Budget was developed in consultation with the NGO, covering local costs and teachers’ in-country costs, with roles and responsibilities described. The NGOs invited their local teachers, and ran a one-day course orientation. Every NGO received AUD2000 to continue with projects in collaboration with refugees with reports on their progress for the next two years. It proved very powerful to have funds unattached to outcomes - P4R continues to receive reports of projects which would have cost far beyond these allocated funds.

On arrival

  • Classroom set up to maximise learning and within the culture of the students eg, prayer time, sitting on mats. 
  • Interpreters and support staff meetings run before or after each day’s session.
  • Interactive, pictorial and materials, friendly teaching methods were introduced. 
  • Theory and practical integrated.
  • Student knowledge used in group work to establish their expertise. 
  • An integrated garden was always built using all techniques and only local resources.


For all sites, positive outcomes. 

  • Students translated and distributed documents.
  • Gardens were started and new NGOs were launched. 
  • NGOs were asked to teach in other camps.
  • NGOs integrated their permaculture learning into their projects at the camp site and if /when they moved.
  • NGOs in almost every case continued the projects in various forms from waste management to community gardens
  • Refugees became trainers. In Bangladesh they taught each other in ‘neighbourhoods’ of camps.
  • BASD developed a model centre for visitors for best practice in their refugee outcomes: Bangladesh Refugee Parmaculture
  • New permaculture associations were started for youth in Malaysia and East Africa.
  • NGOs in Europe started permaculture teacher training courses for refugees in many countries.
  • Afghan students were chosen and issued visas to assist with reversing land degradation in Portugal and now Spain is copying this project.

Project outcomes have scaled up in ways we are unable to monitor and could not have foreseen.

People standing around a computer
Resettled Afghan refugees learning satellite planning in Mertola, Portugal

Elements which helped facilitate the implementation of the good practice

  1. An established global curriculum able to be implemented in almost every social and natural environment.
  2. Teaching processes which put participants at the heart of the learning based on Alternatives to Violence (AVP).
  3. Inclusion of NGO staff and local residents (where possible)
  4. Support from the NGOs
  5. Initial funding by Quakers Australia (of the original model).
  6. Learner-centred teaching is based on Alternatives to Violence processes, effective in community building.

One-off unconditional funding supports participants to jointly design, implement and monitor local projects appropriate for their situations.

Partners involved

What challenges were encountered in delivering the project and how were they overcome?


  • Host camp managers, government policy sometimes do not allow new programs in camps.
  • Camps are transient and fluid; the specifics of place and culture are often vague or unknown, and difficult to plan for.
  • Lack of understanding of the value permaculture courses could deliver for the camp. Refugees were not sure what they would learn.
  • Interpreters: General lack of interpreters whose English and understanding of permaculture was adequate for the training. We accepted whomever was available and often they didn’t know the topics, nor were they fluent in English.
  • Sometimes too many languages for easy translation and feedback, eg. Arabic, French, Turkish and English in one class.
  • Teachers require special training for the range, education and cultures of class participants. Teachers in these environments needed preparation and good data. 
  • Teacher expertise: Teachers took some time to learn to teach differently and adapt their methods for such diverse students.
  • Space:  In some camps it was difficult to locate a dedicated teaching space for the two weeks of the course.  Sometimes this difficulty was not well overcome and sessions were held anywhere and everywhere.

How they were overcome

We learned to:

  • Give management to NGOs for the government agencies and camp managers, because camp management, cooperation and support only become clear once on site and NGOs work with it every day.
  • Develop agreements in advance with NGOs for roles and responsibilities eg sourcing the funds, allocating the budget, who carries out monitoring, and writes reports. 
  • Have key documents translated into local languages in advance where possible - including some permaculture content eg. ethics and principles.
  • Include NGO staff as student participants in the course because they helped at the time and then later for the follow-up projects to scale up, and resources.  
  • Ask NGOs for interpreters who had an interest in the topic and the project.
  • Ensure teachers and interpreters live together so that in the evenings they can work to resolve issues arising during the day.
  • Work with interpreters the night before to prepare materials, keywords and concepts and become familiar with vocabulary. As teachers and interpreters working together we had to meet every evening to revise and review to achieve the best outcomes.
  • Evolve new and interactive teaching methods to overcome teaching blocks, or western bias for passive learning. Teaching methods became more visual with modelling and role plays as effective.
  • Rely on refugees for data for local crops, weather and techniques etc.

Information and learning from this project has been used to inform the permaculture curriculum worldwide for people living in crowded spaces. 

Results of the Good Practice

  • NGO staff gained knowledge to incorporate into their other projects.
  • NGO staff committed to follow-up projects, work with refugees and source resources.
  • Refugees grew food, made income.
  • Waste management, food growing and composting became popular and widespread.
  • Refugees shared with other camp and family members what they were learning.
  • The neighbourhood became greener - nutrition improved, dust was reduced.
  • Refugees taught others.
  • Refugees taught their children and wrote curriculum for their ethnic language schools.
  • NGOs were asked to explain this project’s success.
  • NGO shared their knowledge with NGOs in other camps.
  • During Covid and fires in camps, refugees were more self-sufficient, local residents often assisted them.
  • Some given priority for resettlement eg Portugal - The Mertola Project.
Group of people posing for the camera

In what way does the good practice meet one or more of the four objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees?

Objective 1: Ease the pressures on host countries

Local farmers in Bangladesh who joined refugee courses have improved their incomes and environment.

Objective 2: Enhance refugee self-reliance

Food production, incomes, waste management, teaching, work in teams, all contribute to self-reliance and new enterprises.

Objective 3: Expand access to third-country solutions

Afghan refugees have been welcomed and settled in Portugal because of their permaculture training and ability to restore desertified land. This is being picked up by Spain. Also The Philippines may take Myanmar permaculturists from Malaysia.

Objective 4: Support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity

A project manager from WVI project in a Kurdistan camp has returned to Romania and is setting up refugee resettlement projects there based on permaculture.

Kurdish and Palestinians training at the Sporos NGO in Lesvos are returning to their countries to change conditions.

Syrian refugees in Iraq reported that on returning home they could farm more sustainably.

The P4R program

  • responds to identified needs and make a sustained, positive difference in the lives of refugees and host communities. 
  • has the potential to be adapted, replicated, and/or broadened in scale. 

Next steps

It is anticipated that the program will continue, often with its own momentum. 

The next step would be  to have all NGO staff  working with refugees to learn permaculture as part of their basic training. This trial is happening in Bangladesh with BASD and it is also impacting on poor local communities. It would be most effective if adopted by all major refugee INGOs and NGOs. 

The project has continued with a new NGO, Sporos, set up in Greece to teach refugees. 

Permamed was engaged to work with the Danish Refugee Service. 

In Portugal a new Cameroon NGO, The Cameroon Way is teaching their refugees in Europe.

Refugee trainers in Barcelona and Belgium are teaching in refugee communities of Ukrainians and Turkey during and post-earthquake.

Ground-breaking permaculture education is being implemented by The Ethos Foundation in refugee camps in East Africa through innovative online teaching and local trainers.

Portugal selectively chose Afghans with permaculture for a project in the drier part of their country. Spain is now following. 

Newsletters and reports are circulated to P4R members in Europe, Middle East, East Africa and SE Asia. The work is continuing albeit in slightly locally adapted forms.

Are there areas in which support would be required to continue and/or scale up your good practice?

  • More refugee trainers are required in areas with large refugee populations such as the Mediterranean and SE Asia.
  • The Australian government is interested in changing its policies and has asked via SSI (Settlement Services International to have more information about this project.

Submitted by

Rosemary Morrow, Teacher and Co-Founder Permaculture for Refugees, Australia - [email protected]

Ruth Harvey, Co-Founder, Permaculture for Refugees, Australia - [email protected]

Contact the project