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Sustainable agriculture for Donbass recovery (Ukrainian mining region affected by the armed conflict)

Community empowerment with instruments of biodiversity-based agriculture and processing facilities.

Photo of Pavlo Ardanov
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

NGO 'Permaculture in Ukraine'

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

NGO “Permaculture in Ukraine” - all-Ukrainian environmental NGO; Dobropilla Youth Center Dobro (DYC Dobro) - local NGO from Donbass region; Ukrainian Nature Conservation Group - all-Ukrainian nature conservation NGO; M. M. Hryshko National Botanical Garden - research institution; Open International University of Human Development "Ukraine" - university. Regional Culinary Heritage Europe - community

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Government controlled area of Donbas (part of Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv regions), apart from the buffer zone

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

From the beginning of the armed conflict in the Eastern part of Ukraine NGO “Permaculture in Ukraine” is supporting the most affected and vulnerable part of Ukrainian population: internally displaced persons (IDPs) and veterans. During the active phase of the conflict our organization has been actively engaged in medical and humanіtarian support of injured protesters, IDPs and victims of the armed conflict in the Eastern Ukraine with the projects Coordination Centre of the Kyiv City Hospital №17 in collaboration with the Polish foundation “Education for Democracy”. We have established and developed very effective network with the volunteers, NGOs, international foundations and state organizations acting in this area. Among them are Renaissance Foundation, "Everybody Can", “Vostok SOS”, “Donbas SOS”, “Krym SOS”, “Avtodozor”, “Automaidan”, “Help center for IDPs”,  “All Ukrainian Organization for IDPs”, Charity Organization “Your Support”. This work helped to get better acquainted with needs of IDPs and the residents of Lugansk and Donetsk regions.

Later we have established an international project Permaculture for Peace aiming at facilitating peace-building in post-conflict areas through permaculture (sustainable agriculture + culture) in order to empower marginalized and displaced communities to co-develop long-term food security, energy efficiency, and participatory democratic structures based on permaculture principles.

We are providing free access for IDPs and veterans to our education courses, opportunities (national permaculture gatherings, visiting sustainable farms in Central Europe), and books on sustainable agriculture and sustainable lifestyle. Our Certification Permaculture Design Course is specifically designed for the needs of affected population, including retrofitting houses with locally available natural materials for winter survival under the risk of cuts in centralized energy supply, rebuilding local communities, dealing with psychological trauma). 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Donbass formed the historical border between the Zaporizhian Sich and the Don Cossack Host. It has been an important coal mining area since the late 19th century, when it became a heavily industrialised territory. In March 2014, following the Euromaidan and 2014 Ukrainian revolution, large swaths of the Donbass became gripped by unrest. This unrest later grew into a war between pro-Russian separatists, and the post-revolutionary Ukrainian government. 

Before the armed conflict, the population of the region was 6,6 million, which is equivalent to 14.6% of the population of the state, and Donbas produced 14.5% of the gross regional product. In 2015, the region produced only 7% of the gross regional product while the industry, that employed a quarter of Donbas population, decreased by approximately 58% in Donetsk and 82% in the Luhansk region. With expected gradualy reduction in coal consumption in view of exploration of a new better quality coal regions decrease in coal demand as the result of harsh environmental standards. they region must take the path of “green” clean energy, and agriculture development.

The percentage of rural population in Donbass vary from 9% to 100% between districts being on average 57%. Over half (57%) of the total arable land is used by farmers to cultivate monocrops of cereals and sunflower. Three quarters of the region’s cattle are raised by smallholders which accounts for 70% of milk production. In 2016, the Ukrainian authorities permitted sale of agricultural produce into the occupied territories which unleashed vast and underserved market.

Dry temperate climate of Donbass allows cultivation of crops which are exotic for Ukraine, such as ground nuts, almonds, persimmons and peaches - all are valuable crops for diversification of walnut orchard (Ukraine is the 4th global producer and the 5th exporter of walnuts).

At the same time, Donbass is severely affected by extended drought periods (which now occur on average once every three years) resulting from anthropogenic climate change. The drought in 2009 which caused a 30% reduction in Ukraine’s wheat yields was a major trigger in the rise of global food prices.

In April 2014, Ukrainian Government initiated reform for decentralisation of power in Ukraine delegating more administrative power, resources, and responsibility to the united territorial communities. This potentially facilitates implementation of sustainable agriculture and land use strategies at the local level. In 2019 Ukrainian parliament adopted a draft law that would allow the owners of agricultural land to sell it. This creates both the opportunity for the integration of sustainable land use legislation and adoption of EU policies, but also poses the risks to loose of traditional family farming lifestyle and community ties, as well as agricultural land aggregation to big agricultural corporation with further spread of unsustainable land use practices. 

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

During the conflict period, almost two million jobs were lost in the Donbas. The average monthly income in rural area have decreased by 2.7 times since 2013 (from 390 to 144 USD). According to the WFP over half of the population experienced a complete loss or a significant reduction of income. More than half of these households live in monetary poverty and one third in absolute poverty. According to the FAO, smallholders have halved the area under cultivation.

Most of micro and small cattle farms does not currently meet the proposed new standards (being adopting as part of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement) due to unsanitary cowsheds, insufficient refrigeration and poor transport practices by purchasers. Low prices and profound uncertainty have motivated smallholders to slaughter 1/3 of the dairy herd since the start of the war. The advisory and extension services in rural areas have been greatly disrupted for farmers. 

Most Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and family farms don’t possess their own or community processing facilities and sell their produce to intermediaries and therefore do not take maximally possible benefits. In dairy sector, it is 81% and in vegetables it is 77% of the produces that are sold to intermediaries. 

The region’s nature has also suffered from the war. Already prone to fires because of the dry summer climate, steppes and forests have burnt more often than would have been expected. NASA satellite data showed that incidence per unit area of forest and grass fires was up to two to three times higher than in the surrounding regions.

Use of agriculture chemicals, monocrops,  overgrazing in vulnerable forest-steppe and steppe ecosystems

Ukraine’s fertile black “chernozem” soil, characteristic of the long-grass steppe, which is known for its high organic matter content and thus is highly efficient in its use of rain to maintain soil moisture, has been degraded by intensive agricultural production as well as by water and wind erosion. The cost of soil loss from erosion is estimated at one-third of agricultural GDP each year; soil erosion in turn impedes the sector’s resilience to climate variability and extreme events.

With more than 1,4 mln of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), Ukraine is the ninth largest country in the world in terms of the number of  IDPs. 55% of them are residing in unoccupied part of Donbass region. It creates high pressure to job market for hosting communities, in particular in the agriculture sector.

Waste management and recycling is unmanaged problem in Ukrainian villages. Many households burn fallen leaves and domestic plastic waste this posing health and fire risks, damaging wildlife, and disrupting natural cycle of soil fertility. Garbage sorting and waste recycling schemes and facilities is almost absent in rural areas, and illegal dumping are common and publicly accepted way for waste disposal. At the same time, local food traders import more plastic with excessive food packaging. 

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Development of sustainable biodiversity-based agriculture based on micro, small, and medium enterprises will create a large number of jobs based on self-employment principles being the fastest option for communities to support themselves under changing environment caused by ongoing conflict and support of post-industrial transition of the mining region. Development of the agriculture cooperation and primary food processing facilities would provide better opportunities for integration of internally displaced persons.  

Featuring regional cuisine and promoting food provenance will explore new facets of cultural diversity of Donbass and strengthen cultural integrity of affected by separatist propaganda and armed conflict region with the the rest of Ukrainian regions. Local and fusion food recipes with nuts provide new sustainable local business niche and will also guide nut crop diversification which crop components of commercial produce and dishes with nuts. 

Polycultures of nut crops and polycultures of leafy greens with aromatic spice plants will be designed to complement nutrient cycling and provide biological control for the cash crop, to reduce soil erosion, evaporation and nutrient leaching. Designed agriculture systems will allow to eliminate or substantially decrease  the use of costly synthetic fertilizers and pesticides while sustaining and increasing soil fertility as well as to reduce environmental pollution and exposure of agriculture workers and sensitive wildlife organisms to dangerous chemicals. In addition, cultural and wild plants will be introduced to sustain diversity of local pollinators and / or to improve pollination of the target cash crops. 

Crop-livestock integration and development of silvopasture systems with rotational grazing in orchards and woodlots will aid transition towards sustainable livestock management adapted to droughts resulted from anthropogenic climate change, and reduce and revert overgrazing in vulnerable forest-steppe and steppe ecosystems. Toolbox of regenerative agriculture and permaculture farming practices for temperate drylands will support sustainable farming in the continental climate of Donbass, as well as in southern parts of Ukraine and in other temperate regions suffering from increased droughts. 

Developed regional land use approach will help to harmonize agriculture production with wildlife preservation. We will advocate the use of cropping practices that take into account the special requirements of naturally occurring species on agriculture lends next to biosphere reserves; to reduce land use intensity and abandon production on lands joint to national parks; suggest extensive farming, forestry and agri environmental measures (e.g restoring natural vegetation, planting hedgerows and flower strips) on degraded lands, in prospective biocorridors and stepping stone habitats linking biodiversity hotspots and as well as providing ecological services in intensively farmed landscapes.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

By 2050, cooperative small-scale organic agriculture, food provenance and direct local marketing will provide viable economic and ecological alternative to sustain high quality of life of humankind in transition towards ecointensive agriculture in contrast to fossil fuel and labor intensive agriculture. Such transition is particularly crucial for post-industrial development of mining regions since coal is being increasingly rejected worldwide as particularly “dirty” source of fossil fuel energy.

The application of an information and knowledge intensive polyculture farming technologies with the use of computer programs and mobile apps for designing crop polycultures will exponentially increase. Prompt and broadscale introduction of methods and approaches of permaculture and restoration agriculture will allow us to sustain productivity of arable lands, as well as to decrease biodiversity decline. Sustainable land use approaches developed by professional ecologists and implemented into ongoing land use reform in Ukraine will help to sustain resident biodiversity and utilize it as primary adaptation strategy in response to climate change, Thus we can to preserve and augment of our primary national treasure - fertile lands and biodiversity. 

Future agriculture systems will represent mosaic of commercial polyculture fields and small biodiversity-rich forest gardens, forest farms, extensive organic farms, silvopasture systems, windbreaks and woodlots - all serving as riparian zones and biocorridors between biodiversity hotspots and bringing ecological services into landscapes with intensive agriculture production. 

Majority of Ukrainians will become land owners, including urban dwellers managing low maintenance agriculture system being primarily motivated in nature restoration, supporting transition towards ecointensive agriculture, and securing long-term pension investment into forestry.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

The aim of the present action is to support Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises in transition towards sustainable agriculture.

Proposed project will combine research, education, and advocacy components, while the outputs will be of a community (diversified agriculture system, processing and waste management facilities), regional and national (confernece and guidebook regenerative farming practices in temperate dyland climate, sustainable land use strategy, extension service network for sustaianble agriculture), and international importance (design algorithms for 2 polyculture systems: for diversified nut crop and for leafy greens with spice and aromatic plants). Altogether, the project will result in an increase of employment and business opportunities in sustainable agriculture allowing Donbass mining region to better cope with post-industrial economic depression and high rate of internal displacement resulted from the armed conflict in the region.

The project addresses 6 themes in an integrated way.


  1. “Permaculture Nuts” - food provenance festival and contest: promoting local and fusion cuisine as business for local communities.

Crop diversification should be rooted in local culture and food traditions, while food provenance is a costs-reducing business strategy being grounded on locally adapted agriculture and wild crops thus reducing production input. Survey of local culinary traditions will be conducted and a booklet published featuring food recipes with nuts. Local food festival and a contest of regional and fusion cuisine for a nut-based products with commercial potential will be organized as a joint event to the all-Ukrainian conference “Regenerative agriculture in temperate drylands” (see 4) 


  1. Developing software to design nut crop polycultures for temperate climate.

This is a continuation of the ongoing  citizen science research project by the applicant. An algorithm and software will be produced based on collected crop diversification practices and integration of crop diversification pathways into design modules based on similar processing and marketing (e.g. drying - integration with fruit trees; oil pressing - integration with valuable oil crops), complementary production (e.g. honey from bee pollinated orchards, growing timber trees with nut crops having valuable timber, mushrooms in an orchard), integration with livestock (adding fodder crops), and ecological compensation (e.g. nutrient cycling, pest and disease control, providing permanent ground cover and floral resources for local pollinators and wildlife; increasing carbon sequestration). Based on empirical data provided by growers and trait-guided crop combination for increasing complementary, facilitating resource acquisition and reducing crop competition, this tool will be valuable for agriculture extension specialists and nut growers from temperate regions. It will also be used to design nut crop polyculture system for selected local communities.

  1. Development of polyculture system for leafy greens and aromatic spice plants. 

Participatory methodology that have been previously developed for the nut crop polyculture will be used to design a following polyculture system. Methodology is based on collecting scientific data and growers experience in crop diversification, using plant databases and algorithms for designing crop combinations and rotation schemes, and on workshops with farmers, expert researchers, and permaculture designers to identify and integrate major crop diversification pathways and to collect successful diversification practices within the limits for for different farming systems. Since pest and disease control is one of the primary challenges when growing leafy greens, especially for cultivation in a contained greenhouse environment, while the pesticide application on freshly consumed produce is limited, we will study spice and aromatic plants  as a promising group for diversification within this system. Repelling effect of cultural and wildlife (with particular accent on regional) spice and aromatic crops for major pests of leafy greens will be investigated, and production level of pesticidal and aromatic compounds will be determined. In addition, floral visitation rate for adult stages of pest predators will be investigated.

  1. Conference “Regenerative agriculture in temperate drylands”.

The conference will be aimed at collecting the best practices of designing water harvesting landscapes, establishing protected and humid microclimates, prioritizing resident and drought resistant crops and vegetation, restoration of watersheds. It will foster collaboration and outreach to advocate climate smart agriculture regionally, nationally, and internationally, and help to establish expert groups to develop recommendations for growers (see next output). In addition, best local practices of sustainable, profitable, and cooperative agriculture will be documented and discussed.  

  1. Guidebooks “Farming in temperate drylands: toolkit for permaculture and regenerative agriculture”

An illustrated guidebook for growers will be published in English and in Ukrainian to meet high demand of Donbass growers and residents of southern regions of Ukraine (as well as famers from temperate drylands globally) in diversity of viable option for adaptation to climate change. 

  1. Training the first generation of regional extension specialists in sustainable agriculture.

Initiated agriculture extension service will be initially based in local environmental and rural NGOs, and newly established permaculture education and demonstration centers. Local extension specialists will be trained in agroecology and sustainable (permaculture) holistic farm design by participating in the Certification Permaculture Design Course as well as  summer school in agroecology. 

  1. Training in ecointensive agriculture for local communities.

Short training will be organized to ensure maximal engagement of unite territorial communities from Donbass. Participants will learn the principles and main approaches of ecointensive agriculture and get hands-on experience with locally appropriate growing technologies (e.g. Warm Rozum Beds, polyculture wetlands for water harvesting), and will be provided with expert guidelines for organic marketing. Participating communities will be invited to submit proposals for designing sustainable community development strategies with experts (see 8). 


  1. Designing nut crop polyculture systems and sustainable development strategy for 1 - 3 selected  local communities 

Community will be selected based on their willingness and capacity to share knowledge and experience with their peers and to participate in the citizen science research to test and refine designed polyculture systems. Under the guidance of agriculture experts, communities will design nut crop polyculture systems appropropriate for their traditional agriculture practices and sectors, soil and climate conditions, and market requirements for organic and sustainable produce. Based on selected diversification pathway (e.g. dried fruits and nuts; orchard integration with livestock (e.g. production of dairy, meet, egs); production of valuable vegetable oils etc.) and primary agriculture specialization of selected communities respective community-owned food processing facilities will be established to increase the added value of community agriculture produce, to meet new market requirements and to increase farmers and community revenue. Professional guidance will be provided to compose sustainable community development strategy (which includes business plan with fundraising strategy, natural resource conservation strategy, and waste management project (latter presumes placement of respective infrastructure). 


  1. Developing regional land use approach compatible with nature conservation and provisioning of ecosystem services.

Developing a system of local biodiversity indexes and computational models, and creating regional map of biodiversity hotspots, degraded and low productivity agriculture lands (within the regional pool of arable lands), subregions with intensive agriculture (in particular with high monocrop production), arable lands within a buffer zone of biosphere reserves, national parks, and riparian zones. Developing a set of regional land use approaches for different classes of lands: adapted cropping practices that take into account the special requirements of naturally occurring species next to biosphere reserves; reducing land use intensity and abandonment of production on lands joint to national parks; extensive farming, forestry and agri environmental measures (e.g restoring natural vegetation, planting hedgerows and flower strips) on degraded lands, in defined biocorridors and stepping stone habitats to link biodiversity hotspots and provide agroecological services within intensively farmed regions.

  1. Advocating sustainable land use approach and sustainable community development strategy at the regional and national levels. 

Local advocacy campaigns will be organized to improve investment in sustainable local agriculture enterprizes from both governmental and private sectors, promote nature and environment restoration, and support provisioning of biodiversity-based agroecological services within the region. Provided recommendations will be used to develop respective agricultural and land market policies in Ukraine in line with the ongoing establishment of the national land market.

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Attachments (2)


Survey and interview protocol for nut growers to be adapted for participatory design of the next polyculture system.

Participatory Design Workshops 2019.12.19.pdf

Participatory design workshops protocol for nut growers to be adapted for participatory design of the next polyculture system.

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Hello again!

The following link may be of interest to continue refining your 2050 Vision. Here you will find the invitation to an upcoming Future-casting Webinar, and a recording of our recent Systems Thinking Webinar:

This is the moment when you can connect with other Visionary teams, provide feedback and get inspired by other submissions.

Warm regards,