The winners of the third Lush Spring Prize are celebrating this week, after being chosen as the recipients of a shared £200,000 prize fund.
The projects, which come from all over the world, have been chosen for their dedication to regenerating the planet and social systems. This is the belief at the very heart of the prize - sustainability is not enough, and we must regenerate.
Choosing the winners of this year’s Prize was no easy task for the judges. Faced with stacks of applications from inspiring regenerative projects from across the world, selecting just a handful to receive prize money came as a reminder of just how many people are dedicating themselves to fighting for a healthier planet.
The long wait is finally over. At a conference at Emerson College, Sussex, the winners have been revealed...
Intentional projects category
This category is for ideas in the making, which are less than a year old. Each project has been awarded £10,000.
In the middle of the Ecuadorian Amazon, the Sapara people are standing up against oil drilling. To take the defence of their land and culture one step further, one community plans to build an ecotourism centre focused on the conservation of the rainforest, and using natural medicine to physically and spiritually heal visitors. This peaceful project is one of the ways the community plans to fight against global oil industries.
“By keeping the oil underground, we’re taking a political action for the wellbeing of the planet and mankind,” says Rubén Darío Díaz Chávez, a Ripanu community member.
The centre will be built on Sapara lands, and promoted via a website using videos, photos, and messages from the Ripanu community, inviting people from all over the world to heal, rejuvenate, and dream in the midst of the rainforest.
“We want to heal people’s minds and souls, and also teach them to have lucid dreams so they can understand why we defend our territory so much from the extractive industries that oppress us all,” Rubén says.
In late 2017, a catastrophic wave of forest fires devastated Galicia in north-west Spain, killing over 120 people and burning over half a million hectares. Soon after this catastrophe, a grassroots environmental project emerged - Brigadas Deseucaliptizadoras, or De-eucalyptization Brigades.
Eucalyptus is a highly invasive species that has been encouraged for decades by the pulp industry, and it is one of the main drivers for these devastating forest fires. Eucalyptus monocultures create a “green desert” with extremely reduced biodiversity, pushing back native forests to small fragmented patches.
Brigades, made up of hundreds of volunteers, are now stripping back eucalyptus monocultures and other invasive trees, and reforesting native habitats.
“This is a hands on initiative that shows how people working together can bring about change in restoring landscapes and natural habitats. In just months the brigades have transformed general pessimism into engaged participation,” say Joám Evans Pim and Iolanda Mato Creo, two of the group’s organisers.
Verdagaia dreams of restoring native forests, with their associated biodiversity and traditional uses. As more and more volunteers join the brigades, this dream is becoming a reality.
Apthapi Comunidades del Vivir Bien
Is it possible to live well, in a world where there's a balance between humans and nature? Apthapi believes we can, and wants to raise new generations to live this way at Escuela del Vivir Bien, or The School of Living Well. This holistic project will build bridges between ancestral wisdom and modern technological advances.
“Education is the most powerful tool for transformation. Through it, we hope to reach many people who can unite, question, and transform all areas of their lives. By bringing in more people, we can change the world,” says Geraldine Ovando from Apthapi’s executive coordination team.
Four different organisations are now joining forces to put this education project into action in different districts of Bolivia. Following winning the Lush Spring Prize, the project will go from a dream in a notebook, to a real creation.
Laboratorio Sicilia 2030
This group is built on the idea of collaboration. Inspired by the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Laboratorio Sicilia 2030 (LS2030) is supporting groups and individuals in Sicily to regenerate the land and grow sustainably. The project is building communities, and inspiring collective leadership.
“We all are led by a genuine affection for our land. We come from different cultural, professional, and generational paths and we are all united by the will of working for the regeneration of Sicily,” the group says. In true collaborative style, the five founding members choose to speak in a collective voice.
In Sicily, much of the land is at risk. Desertification is rife here, meaning that the land has become so degraded that ecosystems, water, and soil are hugely impacted. This is one of the worst affected areas in Italy. The reason? Climate change and human impact.
LS2030 is promoting the restoration of this arid landscape, encouraging organic agriculture, and finding eco ways to restore buildings.
Beyond environmental challenges, the people of Sicily face both Mafia, and poverty.
“Sicily is now in a transition phase, looking for a new and different future. Many people are working to build alternatives to the Mafia system, caring about the land, and reinventing new jobs,” the group says.
Above all, this group wants to create concrete changes in Sicily, through collective action.
Young projects category
These projects might still be young, but they’re already having a huge impact. They’ve all been in action for between one and five years, and have each been awarded £20,000.
Ceibo Alliance (Alianza Ciebo)
In the Western Amazon, Indigenous land is being exploited by extractive industries. In the face of this, members of four Indigenous nations have put their differences aside, and joined forces to defend their rainforest territories, and protect their cultures.
“We have learned over the years that we can’t wait for the government, companies, or any others to help us. We must build our own solutions,” says Hernan Payaguaje, Ceibo Alliance’s executive director.
Hernan explains that the group’s actions are often in direct opposition to the government’s economic interests, but that this land is some of Earth’s most vital primary rainforest, and this work is important for halting climate change.
“As our territories shrink under the weight of external pressures and as the older generation passes away, we feel a tremendous urgency to act to protect what we have left,” he says.
Beyond protecting ancestral land from oil industries, Ceibo Alliance is working hard to strengthen cultural identities and Indigenous knowledge, after facing centuries of colonisation and exclusion. Now, the group is recovering traditions, while also educating people in the skills and tools necessary to survive.
Ceibo Alliance is working towards a day when ancestral territories can be free from contamination, managed by Indigenous communities, and protected for future generations. Beyond this, the group wants to inspire other Indigenous communities to defend their land.
Until recently, the land in the Bukompe refugee camp in Uganda was becoming more and more degraded. Monoculture crops were sprayed with dangerous pesticides and fertilisers, and indigenous hardwood trees were cut down for charcoal. This was all a result of people struggling with poverty and a lack of food security, but the ever-degrading land worsened the issue.
YICE Uganda has been working to reduce hunger and poverty within the camp, by offering training to the refugee community in regenerative farming activities like permaculture, whilst also supporting people with financial services. People can not only grow enough food to support their community, but also enough to sell.
“Our dream is to create an ecological permaculture community in Bukompe and neighbouring communities,” says YICE’s programme director, Noah Ssempijja.
Noah himself spent his early years in a refugee camp, raised by his mother, a refugee from Rwanda. This has brought both refugee and women’s issues close to his heart.
“The project targets refugees, who are the most vulnerable community in Uganda, and empowers them with opportunities to earn an income and also ensure food security,” Noah says.
YICE’s work doesn’t end with having a positive impact on the planet and people’s lives in Bukompe. The organisation is also supporting neighbouring farmers in permaculture practices, and in turn building social cohesion between refugees and locals.
Read more about how agroecology is transforming the Bukompe refugee camp.
Association Diritti A Sud
Can tomato sauce transform the natural world and social systems? Association Diritti A Sud’s main project, a natural tomato sauce product, is called Sfruttazero (or zero exploitation) for a very good reason.
“Sfruttazero shows that another kind of work is possible, by respecting workers and nature and obtaining a genuine, ethical, and pesticide-free product,” says the group’s co-founder, Angelo Cleopazzo.
The project not only focuses on workers’ rights and respecting the land, but also empowers natives and migrants to co-exist and work together. This is more than a practical solution in a harsh economic climate - it is a political message. It is a stand against racism and xenophobia.
“We are political activists, fighting for social and climate justice. But we were bored with the traditional way of doing politics, and we decided to act not for the migrant workers, but together with them,” co-founder Gianni De Giglio explains.
Through tomato sauce, Association Diritti A Sud is actively demonstrating that migration is not the cause of problems, but an opportunity for economic empowerment.
Established projects category
These projects have been successfully demonstrating their work for more than five years, and have each been awarded £25,000.
For the last 15 years, INSO has been working in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca, Mexico, to deal with the water crisis. In this area, the speed of water flow is having a serious impact on both communities and ecosystems.
Two demonstration centres show how fast water can be slowed down, and used to the community’s advantage. At these sites, people can take part in workshops and training to explore examples of regenerative land use.
“We’ve had so many moments that could be considered as successful: crowded public events, defeating a harmful government or private project, or receiving a prize. But more and more I’ve found that it’s the small everyday victories that really count, such as a sudden resurgence of a dead spring in a creek,” says Juan José Consejo, INSO coordinator.
The group has also created a water forum, bringing together community stakeholders and NGOs, and so getting the best from a combination of traditional knowledge, community organisation, and modern techniques.
This permaculture training organisation is rejecting the increase of Western capitalism and consumerism in Eswatini (Swaziland), and instead turning to nature to find solutions for difficult living conditions. Guba is showing people how to use the principles of permaculture to regenerate land by working with nature, rather than against it, and in turn creating paths towards nutritious food, clean water, shelter, and economic stability.
Everything about this project stems from the three ethics of permaculture: Earth care, people care, and fair share.
“I co-created Guba, because we felt that the current responses to poverty in Eswatini were falling short. We wanted to move away from old school charity and look at how we could support people to help themselves without harming the planet that sustains us,” says Sam Hodgson, Guba co-director.
“Permaculture offered a set of tools that we felt could be adapted to the Swati context.”
Through training and education, Guba is showing how people can make better use of the resources available to them, and giving people the tools to transform their own lives.
Influence projects category
These projects are real game changers, and are building and strengthening the global regenerative movement. They’ve each been awarded with £25,000 to continue their work.
Peasants are struggling for social justice in Zimbabwe, and Zimsoff is giving their voices a platform. This group is campaigning hard to increase public awareness of agroecology, and make it a part of national policy, while also strengthening smallholder farmers’ rights through training and networking. Everything about this project comes back to farmer-led solutions.
“The climate crisis that is bringing more dry seasons and floods is affecting our efforts to produce food and save our local seed varieties. It’s destroying our properties and causing massive soil erosion and siltation,” explains the group’s national coordinator, Nelson Mudzingwa.
The group is working hard to increase resilience amongst the most vulnerable groups, and fighting for a time when people will be able to achieve food sovereignty, in a well-managed environment.
Zimsoff hopes it will see a day when national policy not only integrates agroecology and farmer-managed seed systems, but also the UN Peasant Rights Declaration.
In the true style of an influence category winner, Ecolise is having a big impact, working with groups all over Europe. This network supports community-led initiatives on climate change and sustainability, creating a space where people can work together.
“We are in the midst of a climate emergency and the overwhelming view of the scientific community is that current efforts of governments fall well short of what is required,” says Ecolise’s creative director, Eamon O’Hara.
Ecolise believes that to create a different future - one that doesn’t involve catastrophic climate change - we need to move away from the world’s current model based on consumption and a concentration of wealth. Instead, the group says, we need to embrace a model that supports regeneration and a greater wealth distribution.
“An expanding movement of citizen and community initiatives is essential to bringing about this shift,” Eamon says.
One of the group’s greatest achievements is setting up the European Day of Sustainable Communities (EDSC), a chance to showcase work taking place in thousands of communities across Europe. The events include permaculture demonstrations, film screenings, and community garden open days.
Through the network, Ecolise hopes small-scale community actions can together gather momentum, and collectively lead to something game-changing.
Want to know more about the Lush Spring Prize? Read more about past winners, or delve into the world of regeneration.
Illustration by David McMillan.