Supporting better decisions across the nexus of water-energy-food challenges

Today we have a guest post from Fortune Gomo, a Hydro Nation scholar at the Centre, about the findings of her PhD thesis, which she successfully defended in March.

Post by Fortune F. Gomo

Our planet Earth is facing increasing environmental pressures, and this has resulted in resource shortages, leading to water, energy and food insecurity, hampering economic development, social and geopolitical tensions and irreparable environmental damage. In addition, there is an imperative need to improve the livelihoods of the ‘bottom billion’ who have no access to clean water, electricity and are undernourished, of which a significant proportion are in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 75% of the population in the region are employed in agriculture, with a significant proportion of smallholder farmers; and 20% of the electricity generated in the basin coming from hydropower. In Malawi, 98% of electricity comes from hydropower, and more than 80% of the population is employed in the agriculture sector.

The water-energy-food (WEF) nexus approach recognises the crucial interdependence of the three sectors. But there is a lack of integrative approaches and tools for policy makers, businesses and land managers that enable better decision making across a range of scales. Through this study, we sought to understand the intersectoral and cross-scale challenges and interactions of the WEF sectors in Malawi.

I interviewed some key national stakeholders in the WEF sectors in Malawi to identify the key challenges in the WEF sectors and understand the WEF system of Malawi (Figure 1). I used the DPSIR (drivers-pressures-states-impacts-responses) framework to understand the intra-sectoral and inter-sectoral interactions of the identified challenges. Understanding the challenges and how they interact can enable policy makers and decision makers to integrate not only across sectors and across scales, from local to regional and address the challenges for sustainable development.

WEF System of Malawi (adapted from Altamirano et al., 2018)

From the interviews with the national level stakeholders, and from reviewing the existing WEF policy framework in Malawi, we found that the responses to the challenges identified, i.e. the policies, strategies and plans, prioritised sectoral expansion for all three sectors to improve access to water and energy and to increase agricultural production and productivity.

The agricultural sector was found to be key to the WEF nexus in Malawi. The sector also utilises a large proportion of land and water resources and needs some energy input for the achievement of its policy objectives, especially the irrigation expansion objective. This makes it imperative for the agricultural sector to work together in an integrated manner with the water and energy sectors to achieve their goals through maximising synergies by collectively addressing common challenges, and minimising trade-offs across sectors.

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