Onsite and Offsite Benefits of Sustainable Land Management

The Onsite and Offsite Benefits of Sustainable Land Management (SLM) project raises awareness and addresses the benefits of action and costs of inaction in areas where SLM practices are implemented (onsite), and the impacted areas downstream (offsite).

About the project

The Sustainable Development Goals have emphasized that SLM is at the core of global environmental and development issues. SLM simultaneously addresses food security, climate change adaptation and mitigation, disaster risk reduction, biodiversity, and water conflict resolution. However the value and importance of scaling-up SLM is not yet sufficiently acknowledged by policymakers or the broad public, thus hindering the allocation of adequate resources to combating land degradation.

Although information and data on land degradation and SLM are increasing worldwide, there is a lack of evidence and awareness on the specific impacts of SLM onsite and offsite. Evidence-based examples highlighted in each case study help to target these gaps by raising awareness and increasing knowledge about various interlinked impacts in areas onsite, where SLM is directly implemented (upstream), and offsite areas (downstream).

WOCAT (The World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies) investigates both unsustainable and sustainable land management (SLM) in Columbia, Indian Himalayas, Haiti and Iceland; identifying, assessing, and illustrating the onsite and offsite impacts of different SLM practices. Onsite investigations focus on the effects on land degradation, water availability and quality, resilience of land and people and biodiversity. Offsite impacts (often neglected and underestimated) focus on downstream water availability and quality (for domestic use, irrigation and hydropower), deposition of particles from windstorms, as well as disaster risk reduction related to floods, droughts and sand and dust storms.

Approaches and technologies giving both onsite and offsite benefits are emphasized in the findings and further documented in detail (WOCAT SLM database). The case studies prompt policy action and public support for investments that improve livelihoods, ecosystem services and natural resource management. Recommendations are focused on SLM-based approaches that enhance collaboration at the local, national and international level.

 The project was implemented by WOCAT jointly with various partner organizations, and financially supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

Key Terms

Onsite: locations where land management practices are applied – implementation site of SLM

Offsite: areas where land management practices (applied elsewhere) have an impact on the surrounding land and people, including areas downstream (related to water) or downwind (related to wind transport of sand, dust and moisture)

Benefits of action: economic well-being, climate resilience, environmental impacts (cleaner air and water, enhanced preservation of land and natural resources), community building, equity

Costs of inaction: yield losses, land and resource degradation, increased disaster risk and vulnerability to climate change, poverty

Case Studies


Land Use Change Impacts in the Cusiana Watershed of the River Basin, Orinoco River Basin, Colombia

In large watersheds such as the Cusiana watershed, there are complex and diverse onsite and cumulative offsite impacts of land management in each ecosystem  (ranging from Andean Páramo at 4000 m, to the cloud forests at 2000m, to savannah lowlands at 200 m). 

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Productive and protective land management – reducing disastrous floods and saving springs in Haiti

In Haiti, sustainable land management practices (eg. agroforestry and vetiver grass terraces) can enhance the resilience of land, and people, to tropical storms, floods and droughts.

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Spring Revival through SLM in the Himalayan foothills: Uttarakhand, North India

Springs, the “blue life-points” of Himalayan mountain populations, are recharged through springshed protection, community forest management, conservation of broadleaf forests and recharge structures.

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Sustainable land management interventions to combat devastating soil erosion, sand and dust storms in Iceland

Revegetation measures with lyme grass, birch trees and lupine, combined with grazing management in Iceland’s volcanic highlands and coastal communities mitigates soil losses and reduces wind erosion.

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On- and Offsite Policy Briefs

Land Use Change Impacts in the Cusiana Watershed of the River Ba- sin, Orinoco River Basin, Colombia

Author: Liniger HP, Vega LF, Ramírez BH, Eichenberger J, Year: 2020, Languages: English

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On- and Offsite Videos

These videos capture current challenges, potential solutions and existing knowledge on SLM practices in each case study from the land user’s perspective. 

SLM for Food, Feed, Fibre... and Beyond

Video presented during the 2020 Desertification and Drought Day illustrates that SLM goes beyond producing food feed and fibre: it also protects land and people against disasters, flood and drying up of springs. It emphasizes evidence-based decision making including knowledge about impacts of land management, both on- and offsite. It highlights the importance of partnership and capacity building and investing into the young people, the next generation. Striking images of the landscapes and statements of land users and people concerned.


WOCAT On- and Offsite Benefits of Sustainable Land Management: Teaser of Global Case Studies 2020

There is striking evidence about the on- and offsite impacts of land management in Colombia, Haiti, the Indian Himayalas and Iceland. The fluctuation of rivers, diminishing crop production, drying up of springs, and the struggle for protection against disastrous storms, floods, as well as sand and dust storms are the paramount issues affecting people near (onsite) and far (offsite). However, local land users have identified sustainable land use practices that mitigate land degradation, preserve natural resources and ecosystem services. 


Land Use Change Impacts in the Cusiana Watershed of the River Basin, Orinoco River Basin, Colombia

In the large watershed of the Cusiana River in Colombia, land management from the Paramo in the Andes to the cloud forests and the savannah lowlands affects the behaviour of the river - changing their flows and affecting people and the ecosystem downstream. Introduction to the complex challenge to relate changes observed in the lowlands to change of the land management upstream. Impressive landscape images.


Nature-Based Practices in Haiti: Reducing Floods and Saving Springs

Haiti is very vulnerable to climate extremes (hurricanes, rain storms) and is frequently hit by disasters, floods, droughts and food insecurity. The land use is not resilient and rural people face land degradation and loss of productivity. Good land management is not only productive also protective. It protects people downstream from devastating floods and soon after that droughts and drying up of the springs - the essential water supply. Agroforestry systems and vetiver terraces and their benefits are illustrated. Impressive landscape images and statements by land users and young extension workers showing on- and offsite benefits of SLM.


Sustainable Land Management for Himalayan Spring Revival

In the Himalayas of North India, thousands of springs are drying up - the essential water supply for the rural communities. Is this related to climate change and or land use change? Extensive spread of degraded pine forests and increased fires hinder the recharge of the groundwater and the springs. Broadleaved forests (oak) and productive agricultural practices secure spring flows and thus provide continued offsite benefits to mountain communities. Impressive landscape images and statements by initiative land users.


Mitigating Sand and Dust Storms with Sustainable Land Management (SLM) in Iceland

Iceland is affected by devastating sand and dust storms, which have impacts on the land (onsite) and far away (offsite) e.g. in a fishing town on the Atlantic coast. The role of Sustainable Land Management and its impact close to the town as well as far away in the volcanic uplands is illustrated, as well as the efforts made by the soil conservation service and individual land users. Impressive landscape images and statements by initiative land users.


WOCAT SLM Watershed Tool

The Watershed Tool helps to categorize and map different land use/land management types, calculate their runoff rates, and determine their contribution to the total watershed runoff from daily rainfall events.

--> A prototype is available upon request wocat@cde.unibe.ch

User Manual for the WOCAT SLM Watershed Tool

The Watershed Tool helps to categorize and map different land use/land management types, calculate their runoff rates, and determine their contribution to the total watershed runoff from daily rainfall events. Using Google satellite images and QGIS (a free, open source Geographic Information System), users can delineate small to medium sized watersheds (<100 km2) and understand how current land use and land management, soil types and slope conditions contribute to surface runoff. The Watershed Tool further allows users to analyse different land use scenarios and assess how changes in land management - such as spreading SLM practices - affect runoff contributions within the watershed, as well as quantify the total outflow from the watershed (e.g. to understand flood risks).

Author: Liniger HP, Joss L, Eichenberger J, Fries M, Year: 2020, Languages: English

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Hanspeter Liniger

hanspeter.liniger( at )cde.unibe.ch
Switzerland Switzerland

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Project duration

2016 - 2020

Teaser of Global Case Studies 2020


SLM for food feed and fibre … and beyond


More videos from case studies below