Virtual Environmental and Humanitarian Adviser Tool – (VEHA Tool) is a tool
to easily integrate environmental considerations in humanitarian response. Field Implementation guidances are useful for the design and execution of humanitarian activities in the field.

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VEHA - Field Implementation Guidance

Agricultural livelihoods
Recover livelihoods - Agriculture
Agricultural practices

Agricultural practices


Environmental factors causing/contributing to the needs and affecting the humanitarian activity

Despite a 300% increase in global food production since the mid-1960s, over 821 million people are hungry.

Conventional high-input agriculture continues to rely on the conversion, fragmentation, and simplification of landscapes and highly mechanized production processes. The resulting declines in genetic and species diversity, in turn, undermine key functions, structures, and processes of agroecosystems, even as climate change, pollution, and other global environmental changes proceed.

Crops may be exposed to greater variability including extreme temperatures and erratic or intense rainfall.

Climate Change can reduce agricultural production in some areas locally (especially at tropical latitudes), affecting dietary diversity; and adversely affecting soil quality and crop production. Changes in precipitation patterns could affect the sustainability of rain-fed agriculture in some areas. An increase in temperature could lead to longer growing seasons in temperate regions and reduced frost damage.

To foster self-sufficiency and productivity in the long run, the natural resource base must be sustainably managed. If damage is already extensive, interventions may be needed to reverse deforestation, erosion, soil depletion, or other changes that affect productivity.

Sustainable agricultural practices can increase the quality of agricultural production and protect the environment and even enable stabilisation of fragile ecosystems.

Where the presence of refugee camps is damaging the local environment, various interventions can be used to reduce population pressures on natural resources and enhance productivity.

Gender, age, disability and HIV/AIDS implications

Existing patriarchal norms and systems may restrict women’s freedom of mobility, ability to own and access to land and their engagement in livelihood activities => Assess equal access for women and men and risk-groups such as LGBTIQ, elderly, persons with disabilities to livelihood opportunities and skills training, markets, cash-for-work, cash assistance and loans, land ownership, productive assets, and agricultural inputs, and identify potential barriers for women, girls, men and boys accessing these.

While women and men work on many of the same activities, there are some clear lines of distinction. In most countries, they have distinctive roles where (often) women will carry out agricultural activities in parallel with domestic activities and family care.


Environmental impact categories

Air pollution
Soil pollution
Water pollution
Climate change
Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems
Natural Resource Depletion
Soil erosion
Increased drought/flood
Soil contamination
Coastal erosion
Saltwater intrusion
Water depletion

Summary of Impacts
Summary of potential environmental impacts

Agricultural practices can impact the environment in many ways:

· Water consumption and reduction in groundwater reserve (eg through irrigation)

· Water pollution and contamination (e.g through overuse of agrochemicals and pesticides).

· Loss of biodiversity (through crop selection and growing monocultural crops)

· Disturbance of traditional seed management

· Land and soil degradation (through tillage, rotations, slash and burn, failure to mulch, etc.)

· Deforestation (poor land management)

· Use of inappropriate agricultural/farming machinery; distribution of machinery in insecure targeted areas can create waste management problems

· Risk of fire in food processing practices

· Management of natural resources for food production and supply

· Support agricultural campaigns aiming to attract international companies, leading to land grabbing and internal displacement.

Impact detail
Detailed potential environmental impact information

Land-use change, mostly for agriculture is responsible for up to 80% of biodiversity loss.

Intensive agriculture has a dramatic effect on the environment leading to soil and water pollution, and erosion. This is also impacting ecosystems and biodiversity, leading to massive flora and fauna extinctions.

Environmental issues, such as soil erosion, deforestation, desertification, salinization also further aggravate the adverse impacts of natural hazard-induced disasters, such as floods, droughts, storms, and landslides.

Agricultural activities can affect biodiversity due to loss of habitats from land clearing, altered hydrologies, unsuitable fallowing techniques and the introduction of non-native species.

Deforestation, the relentless conversion of land, depletion of freshwater, intensification of agricultural production systems, erosion of genetic diversity, the proliferation of monocultures, overuse of herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, and antibiotics, as well as the influx of nutrients and chemical inputs in our crops, soil and water systems, have all become pervasive features of present-day agriculture and food systems.

Traditional knowledge about plants, animals, farming, forestry, fishing, and weather can help protect the environment. Traditional practices may benefit the environment such as inter-cropping or could harm the environment, such as slash and burn land clearance.

Climate change leads to changing temperatures and temperature extremes; Environmental degradation and changing agricultural practices can include tree, vegetation, and soil loss. Any of these forms of degradation can make flora and fauna more vulnerable to disease. Migration and the introduction of new plants, animals, and crops can introduce new diseases that local plants and animals may not be resilient to.

Excessive tilling may lead to erosion and mudflows.


Summary of environmental activities

Promoting and enhancing sustainable production and consumption of local foods, including neglected and underutilized species, high in nutritional quality (considering nutritional content of intra-species variation.

Promoting the use of ecosystem-based approaches – prefer agro-ecology practices (including Assisted Natural Regeneration).

Foster Agro-forestry approach and agro-silvopastoral systems.

Prefer Conservation agriculture.

Promoting a circular bioeconomy involves recycling resources at every possible step in agrifood systems and closing systems to minimize the loss of resources and nutrients.

Detailed guidance for implementing suggested environmental activities

Suggested agricultural good practices are examples only as there are many more and the promotion of particular practices is very much dependent on the specific context and location. Examples of agricultural practices for smallholder farmers can be found e.g. in the FAO TECA and in the WOCAT (refer to further resources).

· Promoting the adoption of alternative drought/flood/disease resistant local crops.

· Promoting increased consumption of vegetables and reduced meat consumption

· Ensure a greater understanding of the importance of good management of ecosystem processes at the farmer and community levels and to support resilience in the landscape and seascape.

· Implement nutrition-sensitive interventions that place a high value on biodiversity (e.g. local crop varieties) in order to deliver safe and nutritious foods

· Agroforestry is an integrated approach combining trees and shrubs with crops and/or livestock. Trees in the farming system or in urban/peri-urban environments can help to increase incomes and to diversify production, thus spreading risk against agricultural production or market failures. Trees and shrubs can be used as shelterbelts, windbreaks, and live fences and thereby diminish the effects of extreme weather events, such as heavy rains and wind storms. They also stabilize soils, prevent erosion, and halt land degradation.

· Agro-silvopastoral systems are the deliberate combination of tree, pasture, and livestock production to take advantage of the synergy between them with beneficial effects for the environment, economy, and farmers. It seeks to improve productivity in the short, medium, and long term, based on a biodiverse ecological system that produces multiple products in a sustainable use of land.

Conservation agriculture combines three key elements: (i) minimal mechanical soil disturbance (no-tillage and direct seeding); (ii) use of mulch composed of carbon-rich organic matter to cover and nourish the soil (e.g. straw, leaves, stems, and stalks); and (iii) rotations or sequences and associations of crops, including trees. The protective soil cover shields the soil surface from heat, wind, and rain, keeps the soil cooler, and reduces moisture losses by evaporation. In drier conditions, it reduces crop water requirements and makes better use of soil water. Conservation agriculture facilitates rainwater infiltration, reducing soil erosion and the risk of downstream flooding. Crop rotation over several seasons also minimizes outbreaks of pests and diseases.

Promoting a “circular bioeconomy” (as opposed to a linear process of extraction, production, use, and disposal) involves recycling resources at every possible step in agrifood systems, as well as “closing systems” to minimize the loss of resources and nutrients. Increased circularity in food systems – where waste from one process becomes a resource input for another – offers ways to increase the efficiency of food production. Countries implementing mechanisms that better use the biomass they are already generating are thus expected to see better economic and environmental returns over time.

Lessons Learnt
Lessons from past experiences

Fight against pesticides: IAEA, together with FAO, has worked on fighting the high use of pesticides and at the same time improving food security: IAEA has designed the “Sterile Insect Technique”, which seeks to sterilize insects and then introduce them into nature in regular intervals, to counter offspring and improve the fight against pests without pesticides. This technique does not harm the environment and insects. (extracted from FAO-Regional Conf for Latin America and Caribbean-34th Session-1-3March 2016)

Activity Measurement
Environmental indicators/monitoring examples

% of farmers supported by the project/activity who practice integrated/sustainable agriculture aiming to provide nutritious food while fostering the local ecosystem/biodiversity.

# of agricultural practices supported by the project/activity which integrate local ecosystem/biodiversity support.

Activity Status
Main Focus
Focus of suggested activities

Prevention of environmental damage

Mitigation of environmental damage

Environmental enhancement

Resource implications (physical assets, time, effort)

This implies programming in a holistic way over the long term. Seeking to optimise sustainable results and avoiding any short-term view of immediate benefits. A longer-term project or clear exit strategy (following support) is required.

This request also baseline information to elaborate trackable indicators for the project life.

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