NEXUS Gains at WaterNet: Catalyzing the WEF nexus for real-world relevance

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By Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi

The water–energy–food (WEF) nexus builds understanding around interlinked resources and sectors, which can be applied to achieve resource security and sustainable development. However, despite progress in research, there is a significant lack of practical case studies. To be of relevance in the real world, the WEF nexus needs to transition from theory to practice, thereby increasing the likelihood of adoption. This requires case studies and investment cases to inform planning scenarios and pathways, and to inform and guide integrated resource security at various scales.

With this in mind, researchers from the CGIAR Initiative on NEXUS Gains organized a joint special session at the 2023 WaterNet Symposium in Zanzibar in October. Professor Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi, a researcher at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), was a co-convener of the session. “Despite progress to adopt the WEF nexus concept across the region, the practical application is still lagging,” he explained.

“The WEF nexus remains a complex concept. We must simplify this complexity and make it easier for stakeholders across sectors to adopt and operationalize the WEF nexus.”

The joint special session, titled “Catalyzing the WEF nexus for relevance and operationalization,” brought together researchers, policymakers, funders, and practitioners from across Africa and Europe. The presentations and discussion explored how to move from theory to practice in the WEF nexus, the critical steps required, stakeholders to be involved, and the timeframe.

Participants recognized the need to mainstream gender into the WEF nexus. While there has been a focus on the allocation and availability of WEF resources, there has been little emphasis on the social, economic, political, and cultural dynamics that shape resource use, access, and equity. The WEF nexus method needs to embrace a people-centric approach that promotes gender inclusivity, considering the unequal access to resources, which feeds poverty and social and economic inequalities.

One of the key next steps is to consolidate existing information on the WEF nexus, to inform the development of a WEF nexus research agenda and five-year strategy. A WEF Nexus Symposium is scheduled to take place in South Africa in August 2024. It will run parallel to next year’s edition of the WEF Nexus Winter School in southern Africa, providing opportunities to link capacity development with the Symposium.

Also co-convening the session was Graham Jewitt, Professor of Hydrology at the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education. Professor Jewitt said, “The key idea behind building human capacity within the WEF nexus is to ensure that people can understand how the WEF nexus operates, how it can be linked to the global agenda, and how to identify sustainability indicators that are applicable for tracking progress, ensuring resource security, and achieving the SDGs.”

Dr Pinimidzai Sithole of Global Water Partnership, Southern Africa, pointed out the advantages of the WEF nexus approach when it comes to attracting investment and donors: “It is easier to justify funding WEF projects because the nexus promotes collaboration and discourages siloed thinking amongst sectors.”

NEXUS Gains launched the Global WEF Nexus Community of Practice during WaterNet to further promote WEF Nexus thinking. It was launched with partners from IHE-Delft, the Water Research Commission of South Africa, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Southern African Development Community WaterNet. The Community of Practice promotes access to WEF nexus tools, methods, and information. It provides a space for conversations and engagement to test ideas, share knowledge, and reduce the risk of duplication. Participants can share and access papers and reports, exchange points of view, interact in a forum, attend meetings on targeted topics, and share and listen to podcasts.

The Community of Practice is currently a platform on LinkedIn; a website, blog, and podcast series are planned. If you would like to become part of the community, you can join the Global WEF Nexus Community group on LinkedIn.

Adopting a WEF nexus approach is a long process. It requires high-level political support and ownership, continuous multi-stakeholder dialogue and engagement, capacity development to support decision-making, and investment planning to screen monitoring and evaluation tools. Practitioners need to build on existing structures rather than create new ones and establish demonstration projects that showcase tangible results on the ground. Initiatives such as the Community of Practice and the upcoming WEF Nexus Symposium can aid this process, supporting the next generation of WEF nexus practitioners to ensure greater resource security in the face of climate change.

Tafadzwanashe Mabhaudhi was Research Group Leader – Sustainable and Resilient Food Production Systems, International Water Management Institute.

This work was carried out under the CGIAR Initiative on NEXUS Gains, which is grateful for the support of CGIAR Trust Fund contributors:, the Water Research Commission of South Africa, and by the WEFTools and SHEFS projects.


Header image: WaterNet Symposium. Photo by WaterNet.

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