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Publication // Climate change and the water–energy–food nexus: insights from policy and practice in Tanzania

By Pardoe, J., Conway, D., Namaganda, E., Vincent, K., Dougill, A. J., & Kashaigili, J. J. (2018). This article looks at lessons learnt in a case study in Tanzania, where policies in the water, energy and food sectors were investigated with respect to the rapidly emerging threats posed by climate change. This is a brief excerpt of the complete paper, which can be acccessed below.

Wef tanzania

The threat of climate change is emerging at a time of rapid growth for many economies in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Dominant narratives comprising ambitious development plans are common and often based around sectors that are highly exposed to climate variability, notably agriculture, hydropower and infrastructure. Tanzania epitomizes these challenges, with agriculture central to the Tanzania National Development vision 2025, the Five Year Development Plans and plans to develop the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT). At the same time, other goals include increasing energy supply and access. Hydropower comprises 21% of electricity generation capacity in SSA, over 90% in, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, and roughly 39% in Tanzania (five-year averages from 2010 to 2014; World Bank, 2014). Agriculture and hydropower are dependent on rainfall yet climate change is likely to alter rainfall amounts, timing and intensity.

The need to adapt to and plan for a future under changing rainfall conditions is complicated by ambiguous climate model projections for much of SSA. A coordinated approach to climate change across the three highly exposed sectors, often termed the water–energy–food (WEF) nexus, is crucial given that the impacts of and responses to climate change are generally cross-sectoral. The nexus perspective emphasizes interlinkages between different sectors and advocates for coordinated approaches that enable feedbacks, trade-offs and synergies across the sectors to be taken into account. This is not a new agenda: recognition of inter-dependencies pre-date the WEF nexus movement. Significant barriers to progress are known to exist, including factors of political economy and incompatibility of institutional structures, set against the wider context of governance challenges present in many developing countries.

Yet, the rate of increasing demand for water, energy and food and the associated pressures emerging through rapidly converging interdependencies emphasize the need for cross-sectoral coordination to avoid significant stress points. In this regard, Tanzania exemplifies nexus issues facing many SSA countries and the potential for climate change to exacerbate existing resource management challenges. Through an in-depth qualitative research approach, this article presents an analysis of policies across the three nexus sectors. Taking Tanzania as a case study, the article examines the extent to which an extensive policy framework addresses the sectors in a coordinated manner. Interviews build on this analysis to identify progress and barriers to implementing climate change adaptation in practice, within and across the three sectors. By identifying institutional barriers, the article draws lessons for other regions experiencing similar challenges and highlights the importance of an institutional framework that supports a coordinated approach across sectors. The article begins with relevant context on climate, the WEF nexus, institutions and policies in Tanzania.

The methods are followed by results on integration of climate change policy by each sector, evidence of coordination across sectors and the role of power imbalances. The article ends with a discussion of the potential for a WEF nexus framing to develop a coordinated institutional approach to address climate change in Tanzania and more widely in SSA.

Key messages

The WEF nexus framing draws on holistic, systems perspectives that recognize the value of coordinated approaches. Climate change is a cross-cutting issue as adaptation strategies often require efforts of more than one sector. This is certainly the case in Tanzania where adaptation strategies include irrigation which may involve the use and development of multi-purpose dams, cutting across the responsibilities of all WEF nexus sectors with strong potential for synergies and trade-offs. The integration of climate change into national-level policies, plans and strategies is an important means through which to encourage action on climate change. Studies in policy coherence emphasize the value of policies that are coordinated across sectors so as to avoid maladaptation or conflicts between sectors.

This article contributes to the literature on the nexus and climate policy integration through an illustration of the progress but also the barriers to effective integration and cross-sectoral coordination and collaboration in Tanzania. The findings have shown that, in Tanzania, publication of the NAPA was followed by greater integration of climate change and specific adaptation strategies into policies and planning documents. The agriculture and water sectors have demonstrated progress integrating climate change and specific plans for adaptation into policy and planning documents. In contrast, although the energy sector has integrated climate change it has tended to focus on diversification through increased coal and natural gas-powered electricity. This reflects the different priorities and pressures placed on the energy sector compared to water and agriculture and effectively undermines the efforts of water and agriculture sectors on climate change. Cross-sectoral collaboration, which is crucial to effective implementation, has not been as evident. Policies and plans continue to call for cross-sectoral working yet in practice collaboration is limited and largely confined to ad hoc projects and activities. The findings have identified key barriers relating to institutional structures. Resource constraints also dis-incentivise collaboration due to issues around cost recovery, free-riders and a need to protect roles and responsibilities to ensure future budgets. Like climate change, a nexus agenda needs to achieve internal recognition and ownership by relevant agencies to become legitimate and move to implementation.

For effective action on adaptation strategies, cross-sectoral coordination needs to be recognized internally as important, and fostered through suitable institutional structures. Besides situating climate change within a more powerful ministry or department, coordination and collaboration could be fostered through budgets allocated specifically to cross-sectoral projects or simply providing greater annual budget consistency for sectors would also increase confidence to work together on longer term projects and plans. Interviews also emphasized that data sharing is a crucial part of the collaborative process. A platformfor sharing data among government departments would help foster collaboration and promote efficiency.

However, it must be acknowledged that these changes will require political will and trade-offs may need to be addressed on a broader scale. The lessons from this case study are relevant for many other countries in SSA, particularly those pursuing agricultural intensification and hydropower development in the face of an uncertain future climate (for example, as proposed in the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa which provides an outlook for the development of African infrastructure (2011–2040). As the SDGs become a new focal point for development planning, it is anticipated that this will increase recognition of the need for greater collaboration and coordination. In Tanzania, this is beginning to appear in policy design but the barriers of unsupportive institutional structures will remain a challenge that many developing countries will need to overcome for successful implementation of these interconnected goals.


December 2017


© 2017 The Author(s).


Pardoe, J., Conway, D., Namaganda, E., Vincent, K., Dougill, A. J., & Kashaigili, J. J. (2018). Climate change and the water–energy–food nexus: insights from policy and practice in Tanzania.

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