Gaia Education supports vulnerable communities to rebuild their social cohesion, adapt their settlements for greater sustainability and disaster risk management, improve climate change resilience and adopt regenerative agricultural and entrepreneurial practices, which mitigate climate-related changes whilst delivering more sustainable food security and livelihoods.

We do this by using our holistic approach, where communities are encouraged to assess their settlements and livelihoods in relation to four key dimensions of sustainability: Social, Economic, Ecological and Cultural. They assess how climate change, natural disasters and unsustainable food production/livelihood practices have thrown these dimensions out of balance and how they can use the challenges as opportunities to re-align with natural processes.

Our approach has an impressive track record in building capacity of community leaders to guide their fellow villagers through sustainable village design and development, particularly in relation to the challenges of climate change, poverty and hunger. Same time we are training villagers in technical skills to make their visions for sustainability a practical reality. Trainings include climate change-adapted house building, disaster risk management, organic vegetable production, horticulture and fisheries projects, as well as social enterprise and food processing programmes.

We promote a paradigm shift in disaster management and food production from conventional relief-and-response practices to an integrated and regenerative risk reduction culture, whereby past victims become pioneers of regenerative actions. Beneficiary villages in Bangladesh, and also in India and Senegal, have made significant progress toward the realisation of self-sustaining communities, regenerating their bio-regions, and are now able to act as educators to a wider populations in their districts and regions.

Objectives and beneficiaries

We have recently completed a project in 66 communities of the coastal districts of Bangladesh, where cyclones, tidal surges, and extreme flooding have devastated settlements, agriculture and food production, increasing mortality rates and destroying the livelihoods and social cohesion of many communities.

More than 23% of the families in the region suffer from a shortage of food and over 50% of agricultural land is affected by salinity from tidal flooding during wet season and upward movement of saline ground water during dry season. In partnership with local organisation, BASD (Bangladesh Association for Sustainable Development), our objectives were to:

1. Build capacity and support villagers to work together in regenerative development and design and develop practical strategies for climate change adaptation and mitigation.
2. Increase food security through a food sovereignty approach with 27 community-led projects to grow organic food from integrated, regenerative agriculture
3. Build on strengthened communities with surplus produce by training in social enterprise and food processing skills to generate sustainable income through sales.

Example practices for climate change adaptation and disaster risk management in this bio-regional context were:

- Building low-roof houses on high plinth/platform and holding house with strong rope
- Making a high place /platform/ life-saving strong pillars to cling to
- Setting tube-wells in higher places for safe drinking water after floods
- Tree plantation to reduce soil dissolution and provide food and wood
- Using organic fertilizer to improve soil quality
- Hanging vegetable cultivation to reduce risk of damage during floods
- Local duck rearing, as more resilient than chickens during floods
- Introducing saline tolerant agriculture and species
- Establishing alternative livelihoods for less reliance on farming
- Developing seed bank in a safe place through cooperatives

Strong points of the practice

Main strong point is that we use our experience in sustainability design and regeneration practices to support communities themselves to turn climate change challenges into opportunities.

Gaia Education (GE) was conceived by a group of sustainability experts from a wide range of academic and professional disciplines, calling themselves "G.E.E.S.E" - Global Ecovillage Educators for a Sustainable Earth. For the last 11 years, GE has played a key role in the regeneration movement as a leading edge provider of sustainability and climate change adaptation education and project-based learning, transforming communities worldwide.

GE grassroots trainers have run over 200 programmes in 47 countries, across 5 continents, reaching over 12,000 people and 109 nationalities, in settings ranging from tribal communities to intentional ecovillages, from urban slums to universities. Feedback shows that our courses are ‘life-changing’ for many participants, with a 92% ‘excellent/good’ rating worldwide.

In 2012, GE responded to the demand for support beyond trainings and launched our long-term Project-Based Learning programmes, which use the wealth of knowledge from our global grassroots trainers coupled with project management support and finance for sustainable communities to implement learning and thrive whilst regenerating natural systems.

Expected results and benefits for climate change adaptation and mitigation

Our results and benefits are already demonstrable regarding climate change adaptation for the communities we have worked with:

India: As part of the Grow your own Food campaign, which use new climate-resilient agricultural approaches, Gaia Education and our local partners have supported Koraput communities to grow drought tolerant plants combined with mulching, fortified composting, vermiculture and vermi-composting, herbal pesticides and green manures, which have improved the productivity of soils and the nutritional value of meals.

Results: High yields in participating villages were the result of community engagement, access to water & new skills acquired through agro-ecological capacity building activities. Villagers who experienced success in the first year by earning supplemental income through the sale of surplus produce encouraged and influenced fellow community members on subsequent years. The project reached a total of 750 tribal families over 2 1/2 years, raising their income, adapting their food production techniques to the changing climate effects, and strengthening their communities.

Senegal: A three-year food security project engaging 4 villages - developed 16 hectares of community land to produce organic food more efficiently, and increase the communities’ capacity to adapt to the effects of climate change. Farmers’ livelihoods in the 4 villages were in decline, with productive land privately sold & remaining soils drying up. Our participatory approach, benefitted 3,000 villagers, 85% women, & transformed desert to abundant gardens. By end-Y2, 100% of beneficiaries stopped using agrochemicals & enriched soil.

Replicability potential of the practice

Because our Whole Systems Design approach adapts to the needs of the communities on the ground and uses low-tech techniques to adapt to and mitigate climate change effects in settlements and livelihoods, it can be replicated anywhere where there is a need. We currently hope to expand our work in other districts of Bangladesh, as well as adapting our model to climate-affected areas of Rwanda and the Congo, where we have been asked to assist farming communities.

[Editor's Note: All information published as submitted by the author(s). Minor edits may have been made to increase readability and understanding.]