Socio-Economic Integration of Migrants & Sicilian Youth

through Organic Products (Sicilia Integra)

Official contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

2016 - 2017


Sicilia Integra aims to support the socio-economic integration of migrants arriving in Sicily through sustainable community and agroecology capacity-building activities with the view to creating an alternative trading platform for the commercialisation of Sicilian organic products in European markets. Furthermore the project aims to foster the professionalisation of migrants and unemployed youth, create new job opportunities in regenerative agriculture, while contributing to the development of a circular economy in Sicily.

The initiative has been developed by Gaia Education and the University of Catania in partnership with the Don Bosco 2000 and I Girasoli migrant welcome centres, organic farmers’ cooperatives and European ethical organic food companies.

Project Objectives

Specific Objectives
  • Creating Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) learning pathways to support the professionalisation of migrants and young Sicilians in the emerging European organic food markets

  • Building an inclusive, decentralised and transparent system of governance and long-term relationships among the different stakeholders

  • Establishing circular economy schemes connecting Sicilian regional food systems with European organic food buyers and markets

Cross-cutting Objectives
  • Promoting humanitarian values which will inform the actions aimed to address complexities deriving from historic cultural, social and religious differences

  • Conducting the vertical integration between the project and the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, COP21 accord, EU2020

Project Milestones

Milestone 1: Design for Sustainability and Organic Food Systems five-week course

The five-week learning journey developed and conducted by Gaia Education in partnership with the University of Catania provides the knowledge and practical skills for regenerative and organic farming techniques in the context of the three dimensions of sustainability– environment, society and economy, with culture as an underlying dimension. 17 migrants and two unemployed Sicilians were trained in the first course which took place in Piazza Armerina in Spring 2016 with all of them preparing to enter six-month training-on-the-job apprenticeships starting during Summer 2016.

The training activities are structured in order to achieve four possible scenarios in the short-medium and long-term:

  • migrants who will work in the Sicilia Integra partner farms

  • migrants who will create their own social enterprises in partnership with Sicilians

  • migrants who will return to their countries with new skills and capacities

  • migrants who will become educators of other migrants.


See the transformative impact of the first course as told by the participants


Milestone 2: Training on the job

The training on the job began during Summer 2016 with five trainees working in two partner farms where they learned agricultural skills alongside organic farmers. Tasks included livestock husbandry, feeding chickens, cows and pigs and learning to graze sheep, as well as the production and packaging of milk and yoghurt products.

These practical skills built on the theory learned in the five-week training course including team work, and regenerative and organic farming techniques while all the time improving their language and integration skills. A further group of three are due to start at a third farm Autumn 2016.

Cheikh, Bandiougou, Muhammed and Sambou worked in the Forno Santa Rita bakery alongside Sicilian master baker, Maurizio Spinello.

They learned the art of making organic pasta, which will be sold through a newly-formed social enterprise, and other bakery products.

In preparation for the launch of the social enterprise, Siaka and Alex formed the communications team, researching various aspects of new business start-ups and assisting with the dissemination of information on Grani di Gaia products.


Milestone 3: Designing urban gardens in Floridia

Gaia Education, University of Catania and Passwork conducted the second five-week Design for Sustainability and Organic Food Systems for 16 migrants from Mali, Senegal, Egypt, The Gambia, Ivory Coast and Nigeria and six unemployed youth activists who engaged in participatory learning and on-site design to improve urban land for organic agriculture at the edge of the town of Floridia.

During the Economic Design Week the three design groups – Green Fellows (urban gardeners), Leaders Hands (educators),  and Focus (social entrepreneurs) – learned to read the territory and deepen the interaction with the context in which they live and work.

In the Ecological Design Week they developed a water system on abandoned urban land and learned how to utilise various composting techniques for specific situations.

See their transformative learning journey through this film 


Milestone 4: Rehabilitation of abandoned urban gardens in Catania

Migrant youth and unemployed Sicilians embarked on a two-month learning journey led by Gaia Education, the University of Catania and Il Nodo, with a five-week Design for Sustainability and Organic Food Systems course and a three-week field implementation.

The programme took place at the Il Nodo Migrant Welcome Centre where both theoretical lessons and field activities were carried out, leading to the design and rehabilitation of an urban garden that had been abandoned for over 20 years.

The 14 migrants and 7 Sicilian youth learned how to develop a productive garden oasis system using minimum water and maximum fertility retention, and diverse microclimate opportunities.

They recovered an old orchard with lemons, oranges, prickly pears and medlar trees and, by utilising various composting techniques, established a vegetable garden with lettuce, onions, tomatoes, cabbages, broccoli and eggplants in an integrated design.

The course graduates, now empowered with Design for Sustainability skills, are planning to establish their own cooperative for organic garden management services, with some becoming trainers on urban garden design.


Milestone 5: Paternò inspires more designers for sustainability

Ten migrant youth and seven unemployed Sicilians embarked on the now well-tested five-week learning journey in Design for Sustainability and Organic Food Systems, led by Gaia Education, the University of Catania and associazione I Girasoli.

The programme took place at Masseria San Marco, in the municipality of Paternò, in the Simeto river valley, at the foot of Mount Etna’s southern side. This is a bioregional laboratory and cross-breeding ground for numerous associations and initiatives. Ten municipalities were involved in redesigning the future of what was once one of the richest citrus and vegetable growing areas of Sicily.

Theoretical lessons and field activities, focused on organic regenerative design and market possibilities for the much-in-demand food and cosmetic industry, took place inside an existing 2000 square metre warehouse and food lab located on site.

It is wonderful to see how awakening to the opportunities of production of fresh fruits, juices, essential oils, jams, sauces, dry fruits and vegetables, and pasta making, has fueled the imagination of this new generation of designers for sustainability.

The team of Sicilia Integra and some course graduates are now establishing a social cooperative and plan to be part of the regenerative development momentum that is enlivening this territory.


Milestone 6: Exploring aromatic and medicinal plants in the Iblei Mountains

In the late spring of 2017, Gaia Education, the cooperative Passwork and the cooperative l’Arcolaio conducted, in the Iblei Mountains, one of the most biodiverse regions of Europe, a course on aromatic and medicinal plants.

Twelve women aged 16 to 29, from Nigeria, The Gambia and Mali, joined the course. (Most of these women have been in treatment for varying degrees of PTSD condition.) Through a dynamic journey grounded in theoretical and practical experiences, they learned about indigenous plants such as rosemary, sage, lavender and oregano.

The practice to cultivate, transform and maintain the aromatic and medicinal value of the plants, coupled with an analysis of different market opportunities connected to the cosmetic, culinary, medicinal and aromatic properties of the plants awakened an enthusiasm and a thirst for more education and experience in all the students, as well as the possibility of a career destination for these gifted young women.

Project Partners

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