Towards realization of nexus-doing at the grassroots level: Water-energy-food governance assessment in the Songwe River Basin (Tanzania and Malawi)

Tumaini Wambua John, Janez Sušnik*, Sara Masia, Graham Jewitt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

24 Downloads (Pure)


The intricate connections between water, land, food, energy, and climate change require a multicentric approach to evaluating the trade-offs and synergies needed to achieve sustainable development. For example, the amount of water required in irrigated agriculture, consumptive water uses, and hydro-power production can potentially lead to water pollution, and negatively affect hydrological regimes. However, Operationalizing Water Energy Food (WEF)-nexus thinking has evolved such that a division between researchers (e.g., academia), political actors (e.g., policymakers), and development partners (e.g., promoters) has formed. This lack of connection can lead to a situation where there is incoherent governance of WEF resources management. In the Southern African Development Community (SADC) context, the WEF nexus approach is at the core of regional sustainable development plans and strategies. This paper analyses the ambitions and the expected outcomes of the Songwe River Basin Development Programme (SRBDP) and reflects on how governance coherence of WEF resources rooted at the grassroots level contributes toward achieving “nexus-doing”. The SRBDP exhibits a multi-stakeholder connection of interests geared towards a common target (i.e. stabilisation of the River Songwe flow). The SRBDP creates a multi-centric action system within the water, energy, food, and climate change adaptation role-players to achieve this overarching goal. The connections espoused in this system form the basis for nexus-doing in the Songwe River Basin. The major findings are: (i) there is a significant infrastructural demand in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), anchored in the development of water, land, food, and energy resources; (ii) governance coherence in the SADC context can be identified at both vertical and horizontal levels; (iii) the nature of trade-offs and synergies exhibited in SRBDP is valuable for making progress towards the operationalization of integrated WEF-nexus resource management; (iv) governance inconsistencies/ambiguities are better diagnosed and addressed in implementing nexus-doing initiatives such as SRBDP. Based on the findings, the following recommendations are proposed: (i) build upon small wins and support snow-balling successes to upscale promising initiatives-for instance the joint agreement by Tanzanian and Malawian governments to stabilize Songwe River flow by inaugurating the joint cooperation and equitable sharing of the Songwe watercourses (AFDB, 2019); (ii) invest in capacity building and human resources for the Songwe River Basin Commission and associated stakeholders to become more effective;-for posterity of sustainable developments in the Songwe River Basin; both the Tanzanian and Malawian governments in partnership with development partners need to upscale the investment in human capacity development and resource capacity development of the Songwe River Basin Commission (SRBC) as the joint development vehicle for the basin. and (iii) enrich policy assessment tools tailor-made for SADC. This tool will help in policy accounting to help minimize duplication, and ambiguities by fostering cooperation and policy mapping across the WEF-nexus sectors in the SADC region. This work can guide approaches to close the gap between nexus-thinking, and nexus-doing, something that is increasingly called for.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103596
Number of pages13
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Governance coherence
  • Lesser-developed nations
  • Songwe river development program
  • Water-energy-food nexus, nexus-doing


Dive into the research topics of 'Towards realization of nexus-doing at the grassroots level: Water-energy-food governance assessment in the Songwe River Basin (Tanzania and Malawi)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this