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Lush Spring Prize 2018 Intentional Projects Award Winner: Jewels in the Desert

For almost half a century the Sahrawi people have been forced to exist in remote refugee camps in the Sahara Desert. International collective ‘Surplus Permaculture Design’ has created a revolutionary project, that aims to reverse the Sahrawi’s fortunes, by regenerating the land, empowering the camp’s youth, and creating sustainable business ecosystems. So impressive are the plans that the project has scooped a 2018 Lush Spring Prize Intentional Awards, and with it £10,000 to help bring its ideas to life.

From 1975 to 1991 the Western Sahara War saw conflict between Moroccan forces and the Sahrawi Polisario Front. The fighting caused thousands of Sahrawi to flee their homes and head for the Tindouf province in south west Algeria, where they took refuge in ‘temporary camps’. Despite a ceasefire, there is still no sign of resolution between the two sides and most of the refugees and their descendants have remained in the camps despite facing harsh conditions, both politically and environmentally.

Their problems are further exacerbated because plant life is minimal, water tables extremely low, and rain rare, so their basic needs and survival entirely depend on international aid, but as their numbers have grown and other refugee crises have emerged elsewhere, their funding levels have decreased, hugely impacting the health and wellbeing of the 100,000 strong population. But Surplus Permaculture Design’s regeneration project, known as Jewels in the Desert, brings new hope. It suggests that the key to building a brighter future for the Sahrawi, could be to reuse waste water, recycling it for multiple uses.

“We are looking at the complexities within living, social, economic, and environmental systems regeneration, there is no blueprint, no cookie-cutter approach; a truly co-creative and humane process is required,” Nicholas Tittle, the co-founder and CEO of Surplus Permaculture Design says.

Nicholas reveals that currently each resident receives around 17 litres of water per day for all uses, with the majority of it used for cooking, cleaning, and wet toilet sanitation, but as it can be purified using biological and vegetative filters, it can be reused multiple times, which could be used to revive depleted soil and promote vegetative growth.

“We want to plant seeds of regeneration for long-lasting impact, leaving a sea of green in the desert,” the co-founder continues. “We are attempting to merge regenerative design thinking and the humanitarian sector; to change the way the world views refugees.”

The ultimate aim of the Jewels in the Desert project is to act as a business incubator that will promote environmental regeneration, food sovereignty, youth empowerment, economic independence, and capacity building, to help the Sahrawi people create a thriving oasis in the midst of the Western Sahara, and with it a sustainable future.

“The most rewarding part of this project is to have the chance to collaborate with such amazing people, people who have inspired us so much, who remind us of what is missing in our societies. For this project to succeed, it needs to be fully owned, embedded, and directed by its users,” suggests Nicholas, who reveals that the Lush Spring Prize fund is the first major injection of capital the project has received.

“The money will be invested in deepening our relationships and understanding of this incredibly complex situation, by conducting collaborative capacity building events. Only by forming real bonds can regenerative work truly unfold.”

To follow the Jewels in the Desert project as it develops, visit

The Lush Spring Prize, hosted by Lush and co-operative Ethical Consumer Research Association, offers a £200,000 prize fund and other support activities, to help projects around the world that are working towards environmental and social regeneration.

Regeneration illustration by David McMillan.

Jewels in the Desert
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