NEXUS Gains: Realizing Multiple Benefits Across Water, Energy, Food and Ecosystems


Water, energy, food, forests and biodiversity systems are strongly interconnected and are critical to rural livelihoods and food and nutrition security. However, governments, stakeholders and investors struggle to manage systems change in the water-energy-food-ecosystems nexus and ensure changes are robust under climate change.

The transboundary nature of basins makes integrated and sustainable management of water, energy, food and ecosystems challenging. Systems thinking helps avoid unintended consequences that would jeopardize sustainability and possibly exacerbate conflict. Good governance across boundaries and sectors requires strong institutions and actors willing to overcome silos and adopt new tools to support nexus approaches.


This Initiative aims to realize gains across water, energy, food and ecosystems — with a focus on forests and biodiversity for the ecosystem component — in selected transboundary river basins by leading global nexus thinking and providing tools, guidelines, training and facilitation for analysis and research for development.


This objective will be achieved through:

  • Trade-off analyses and foresight methodologies, supporting enhanced national and local government capacity to apply research evidence and data in policy and decision-making processes for assessing and developing prioritized solutions for water, energy, food and ecosystems.
  • Boosting water productivity and storage management, contributing to governments and other actors taking decisions to reduce the environmental footprint of food systems and smallholder farmers implementing new practices that mitigate risks associated with extreme climate change and environmental conditions.
  • Energizing food and water systems, also supporting governments and other actors to take decisions to reduce the environmental footprint of food systems.
  • Water, energy, food and ecosystems nexus governance, contributing to enhanced national and local government capacity and farmers using practices that sustain natural resources.
  • Developing capacity for emerging women leaders, supporting women and youth empowerment for more active decision making in food, land and water systems.


This Initiative will work in the following countries: Angola, Botswana, Ethiopia, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Pakistan, South Africa, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Zambia and Zimbabwe.


Proposed 3-year outcomes include:

  1. Basin policymakers, planners, researchers, and demand and scaling partners are using results from foresight and interactive modeling tools to assess trade-offs and synergies and develop prioritized water, energy, food and ecosystems nexus innovations and policies in at least three focal regions.
  2. Public sector departments, international organizations, academia and investors are using water productivity assessments and water storage diagnostics across scales and sectors to improve system-level water productivity through nexus interventions in all target basins.
  3. Private investors and policymakers are using scalable gender-sensitive energy business and finance models to accelerate rural energy access for more sustainable and equitable food systems in Ethiopia, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sudan.
  4. Policymakers and stakeholders are using science-policy dialogues, multi-stakeholder forums, and a co-developed governance toolbox and guidelines to strengthen governance across water, energy, food and ecosystems in all target basins.
  5. At least 40 emerging women leaders in government, private sector, academia and research institutions have increased capacity to identify, assess and implement one or more nexus innovations per focal basin.


Projected impacts and benefits include:


Co-design of and capacity development to use the latest Earth observation data and state-of-the-art digital tools will support effective uptake by planners and policy-makers responsible for national policies and strategies that support environmental sustainability and biodiversity, bringing 0.3 million hectares of land under improved management.


Underlying environmental, social and policy conditions that enable affordable healthy diets and safe nutritious food production are addressed, resulting in healthy, sustainable diets becoming more widely available and affordable, directly benefiting 2.5 million people and indirectly benefiting 23 million.


Rural poverty is addressed by increasing farm income through better access to clean energy, water and irrigation technology; higher resource-use efficiency; and generation of additional jobs and revenue opportunities for 2.5 million people, including women, youth and marginalized communities.


Initiative capacity and mentorship programs will focus on women, youth and marginalized groups, directly benefiting 0.4 million women and 0.5 million youth. The Initiative will also consider how to strengthen women’s agency in the development of guidelines and toolboxes focused on accelerating clean energy access, improving groundwater governance, and supporting cross-sectoral multi-stakeholder platforms building on earlier CGIAR and other work.


Scientific evidence on the impacts of climate-smart solutions across a range of sectors and quantification of co-benefits and trade-offs inform climate investments to ensure that they are effective and do not jeopardize the sustainability and resilience of the whole system. Innovative financial models support inclusive and sustainable scaling, averting 2.5 million tonnes in equivalent emissions of CO2 and benefiting 2.5 million people.


An Integrated Approach to Realize Multiple Benefits Across Water, Energy, Food, Forests, and Biodiversity

For more information, view the Initiative proposal


Header photo: The Doyogena climate-smart landscape in Southern Ethiopia. Photo by O. Bonilla-Findji/CCAFS.