Navigating transformational change for the Water-Energy-Food Nexus in Africa

The Water-Energy-Food (WEF) nexus is an important concept that recognizes the interdependencies between the water, energy, and food system. In Africa, the WEF nexus is particularly relevant because the continent faces challenges regarding food security, access to modern energy services, and water resource management. What’s more, all these challenges stand to be exacerbated by the impacts of climate change. Governing the interconnections between these systems in a sustainable way is therefore a critical challenge facing many regions, including the Volta and Tana River basins.

One approach to managing these challenges is by applying a Transition Governance Framework (TGF). TGF is an iterative and participatory approach that aims to facilitate and manage transitions to sustainable futures. Applying the TGF in the EPIC Africa project requires a participatory approach that engages visionary thinkers and doers from across the WEF sectors, providing a kaleidoscopic look at the challenges at hand. These visionary thinkers can stem from many different organizations, including government agencies, civil society organizations, academia, research institutes, the private sector, and local communities. It also requires a strong focus on building capacity and supporting learning to ensure the process is adaptive and responsive to changing conditions.

The TGF is based on four iterative phases: (1) pre-assessment, (2) visioning and back-casting, (3) experimentation and learning, and (4) mainstreaming and scaling up. In the context of the EPIC project, the TGF will be applied to both the Volta and Tana River Basin to identify the complex and interconnected challenges facing these systems and to develop integrated pathways to a sustainable future supported by WEF modeling.

  1. Pre-assessment: This phase involves conducting a comprehensive assessment of the existing WEF nexus governance in the Volta and Tana River basins, including identifying the key challenges and opportunities. This will include mapping the existing WEF systems, analyzing trends and drivers, and engaging with stakeholders through a survey and qualitative interviews to understand their perspectives.
  2. Visioning and back-casting: In this phase, visionary thinkers will come together in a safe ‘transition space’ to develop a shared vision of a desirable future for the WEF nexus in the Volta and Tana River basins. This involves identifying the key goals and objectives and
    developing a back-casting plan to work backward from the desired future to
    identify the steps needed to get there.
  3. Experimentation and learning: This phase involves piloting and testing the trade-offs involved in setting different goals and objectives, and realizing the pathways needed to attain sustainable futures. This testing will be done with the open-source WEF planning and modeling tool developed in parallel to the TGF research stream by the EPIC Africa modeling partners.
  4. Mainstreaming and scaling up: In this final phase, robust pathway elements (this can be social, technological, and/or policy innovations) are mainstreamed and scaled up to achieve a broader impact. This will involve working with the wider set of stakeholders involved in the project through the EPIC Africa Research Network (EARN) to build capacity and support for these approaches.

In the past, the TGF has already been successfully applied by VITO to the governance of the water system in Flanders (Belgium). The result is an array of fundamental views on a robust water system by 2050 at the latest. The TGF enabled the formulation of multidisciplinary points of view and speaks in different languages such as text, poetry, photography, and cartoons (

In conclusion, the WEF nexus in the Volta and Tana River basins presents a complex and interconnected set of challenges that require a coordinated and integrated approach to address. The TGF provides a useful framework for managing these challenges, by facilitating a participatory and iterative process of transition to sustainable and desirable futures. By engaging stakeholders and building capacity, it is possible to achieve sustainable and equitable outcomes for the WEF nexus in the Volta and Tana River basins.

DATE: Tuesday, 2nd May 2023