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 - Water/land management
Sustainable land and soil management

Sustainable land and soil management


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

Habitats and the ecosystem services they provide perform vital functions for society and wildlife. Therefore, the loss, degradation, and fragmentation of habitats are equally important environmental and societal issues. For example, if entire forests are cut down to provide timber for rebuilding, there can be significant negative impacts on a community’s water supply or erosion could prevent the community from using the land for agriculture, as well as the destruction caused to other flora and fauna.

Thus, decisions regarding how, when, and where to convert a natural resource (such as cutting down forested areas to clear land for an agricultural field) needs to be made carefully in terms of balancing needs, opportunities, risks, and overall impact. Land use analysis at a watershed scale can provide an overview for multiple objectives, complementary as well as conflicting, across a particular location so that adjustments can be made and assessed. Almost all livelihood sectors have the potential to cause some type of habitat conversion.

Tensions within an affected community, or between a displaced and local population, can arise when production requires a change in access to the available natural resources. Competition over water or land can lead to restrictions in their use. Primary food production may not be viable if there is a shortage of vital natural resources over the long term. It is also not feasible if there is a lack of access for certain populations, such as landless people.

Gender, age, disability and HIV/AIDS implications

Land tenure policies and related guidance ensure respect for land and forest tenure security without any discrimination. Special attention may be given to groups such as indigenous people.

Promoting and facilitating sustainable, non-discriminatory, and secure access and utilization of land and forest resources consistent with national and international laws protects these important assets for the people whose livelihoods depend on them. This sub-action should be carried out in a gender-sensitive manner.


Environmental impact categories

Climate Change
Coastal erosion
Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems
Natural Resource Depletion
Saltwater intrusion
Soil pollution
Soil erosion
Water pollution
Water depletion

Summary of Impacts
Summary of potential environmental impacts

Poorly managed land and soil management can cause significant deterioration to the environment, including air, water, and soil pollution, destruction of habitats, flora, and fauna; extinctions; soil loss; water pollution; loss of water resources; reductions in soil fertility and crop yields.

Sustainable land and soil management protect flora and fauna, natural resources, water quantities, and quality and avoids pollution, and can improve water resources, soil quality, and biodiversity.

Impact detail
Detailed potential environmental impact information

Poorly managed land and soil management can cause significant deterioration to the environment, polluting air, water, and soil, destroying habitats, flora, fauna, and the ecosystem services they provide to society and the rest of nature. This can lead to extinctions, irreversible soil loss, water pollution or loss of water resources, and the inability to grow sufficient viable crops to feed local communities.

Such poor land and soil management often ultimately results in conflict between different communities over increasingly scarce natural resources. This can ultimately make locations uninhabitable. Poor land and soil management are often the underlying drivers of livelihoods failure and of wider scale humanitarian crises.

Done well, sustainable land and soil management protect flora and fauna, natural resources, water quantities, and quality and avoid pollution. It provides for the needs of the current generation without affecting the ability of future generations to provide for their own needs.

Done very well, sustainable land and soil management can improve previously degraded locations, increasing water resources, soil quality, and biodiversity, helping the environment and the flora, fauna, and people who depend on it to flourish.


Summary of environmental activities

Map environment condition and resources, including water, flora – including trees, fauna, water resources, and quality, drainage, soil condition, climate.

Identify at-risk flora, fauna, and natural resources. Plan protection, remediation, or enhancement. Plan sustainable resource use.

Identify and address livelihood causes of air, water, and soil pollution.

Review and address livelihood impacts on flora and fauna. Consider behavior change programmes.

Identify and address causes of soil loss, water resource loss, reductions in soil fertility, and crop yields.

Introduce soil health management good practices.

Support improved land access and secure tenure for tenant farmers or owners.

Support urban multifunctional landscape management.

Detailed guidance for implementing suggested environmental activities

Sustainable land and soil management require effective mapping of the condition of the local environment and of natural resources including water resources and water quality, flora – including trees, fauna, water drainage, soil condition, and climate.

The land and soil management plan should include the identification of at-risk flora, fauna, and natural resources and should include a plan and mechanisms for coordination for their protection, remediation, or enhancement. Plans should be included for the sustainable use of existing resources or moving to alternative more sustainable resources such as growing bamboo instead of cutting trees.

Air, water, and soil pollution caused by livelihood activities in the area should be identified and remedial measures developed and implemented, such as changes to agricultural, manufacturing, and mining processes. Similarly, livelihood impacts on flora and fauna habitats should be identified and plans made to protect species that are at risk of extinction. This may require community awareness and behavior change programmes, including helping them to understand how their future survival depends on the health of the local land and soil. The plan should identify the causes of soil loss. loss of water resources, reductions in soil fertility, and crop yields and plan to address these with sustainable land management capacity building of local authorities, farmers, and local industry.

Soil health management good practices should be introduced. This can include the use of cover crops, legumes, composting, mulching, planting native hedges and trees for shade, and soil retention along with other agroforestry methods. Harmful land clearing activities should be identified and discouraged, along with encouraging measures to prevent further land degradation and loss of soil fertility, thereby also improving productivity, and building resilience to climate change.

Support initiatives that integrate traditional and modern farming practices and which both support biodiversity and demonstrate nutrition and climate-smart practices, including enhancing soil health, managing pests and diseases, and improving water storage and harvesting.

Agroecology, agroforestry, organic farming, agropastoral and integrated systems should be used to improve productivity and restore degraded pasture lands, with the aim of increasing their resilience, reducing overall GHG emissions and the emissions intensity of livestock production.

Support improved land access and secure tenure for tenant farmers or owners. Enable food production and provide an incentive for landholders to invest in improving their land with soil protection measures, tree planting, improved pastures, water conservation technologies, or sustainable crop production.

Support urban multifunctional landscape management. Integrate agriculture, home gardening, trees, and forests to make urban populations more resilient by diversifying urban food sources and income opportunities, and by maintaining open green spaces, enhancing vegetation cover and water infiltration, and contributing to sustainable water and natural resource management.

Lessons Learnt
Lessons from past experiences

A local NGO working in Burkina Faso has reported how they have helped pastoralists and settled farmers settle their disputes over precious water resources through a variety of groundwater recharging initiatives, trickle irrigation, targetted use of compost for individual crops, and agreed to land zoning.

Activity Measurement
Environmental indicators/monitoring examples

Number of local landowners, businesses, and other key actors (local government, farmers groups, local NGOs) who collaborate in developing and sustainably implementing sustainable land and soil management plan.

Activity Status
Very high
Main Focus
Focus of suggested activities

Prevention of environmental damage

Mitigation of environmental damage

Environmental enhancement

Resource implications (physical assets, time, effort)

Sustainable land and soil management is a time and resource-intensive activity that requires coordination amongst multiple actors over many years.

This can be planned for and commenced during humanitarian response, but must be done in tandem with development actors and local community groups and landowners, who must then fully own and lead the process.

Next guidance:

Targeting of recipients
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