event 31 Aug 2018 time 09:00

Session at RGS 2018 // Decentralising the Governance of the Nexus: The Challenges of Politics and Power in Finding Workable Solutions to a Democratic Management of the Landscape

The Shire River Basin in Malawi is a landscape that brings the nexus of food, water and energy into sharp focus: the landscape generates 90% of the country’s electricity, could be its ‘bread basket’ but is ecologically fragile. The decentralisation of government to district councils and elected Commissioners started in 2000 as part of a process of consolidating democracy, of bringing ‘citizen participation into the decision-making’. However, few sectoral authorities have decentralized functions to the local Assemblies, and traditional authorities still hold sway over communal land allocation, creating a dichotomy of power in terms of decision-making and policy mandate.

category Sessions, Panels and Side Events tag Governance tag Governance of the Nexus globe Africa globe East Africa globe Frexus Project / Sahel
Logo royal geographical society rgs ibg

We share our lessons from experience working on the food, water and energy nexus in this political and hydrological landscape. This includes bringing people together and realising the benefits of joint monitoring evidence as a tool to facilitate deliberation, and changing political economy through learning by doing ‘citizen power’.


  • Paddy Abbott (LTS International, UK)
  • Melvin Woodhouse (Independent)

Chair: Kirsty Blackstock, James Hutton Institute, UK

About this Session

The concept of the food-energy-water-environment nexus has been in vogue since being identified as part of the ‘perfect storm’ of drivers on society by the UN in 2011. It has become a narrative to try to capture and explain the systemic nature of global wicked problems; and also to provide innovative solution to these wicked problems. For some, it is an invitation to grapple with the persistence of complex socio-ecological challenges and offer a site for transformation in our relationship to the material landscapes. For others, it remains a technical challenge to be resolved through optimisation of resource use in any given landscape. As social scientists, we are interested in how institutions, governance and management lie at the heart of either approach to the nexus in specific places and spaces.

The session "Adaptive management and governance of the food-energy-water-environment Nexus (1): Speed Talks" at the Annual Conference 2018 of the Royal Geographical Society involves contributions from those involved in Water-Energy-Food nexus research or those trying to manage or govern the nexus in practice, asking them to reflect on the following questions:

  • To what extent can the nexus be managed or governed?
  • To what extent does adopting a nexus perspective improve the governance of social-ecological systems?
  • Has the narrative of the nexus simulated innovative approaches or do the same fundamental governance and management challenges apply?
  • Are there new actors or sites for action emerging from taking a nexus lens?
  • Are new methodologies emerging from taking a nexus lens?
  • What can we learn from other governance and management domains; and what can nexus scholarship offer to others?

This session will consist of grouped speed talks followed by small group discussions with the presenters. The sister session Adaptive management and governance of the food-energy-water-environment Nexus (2) will involve a workshop based around a rapid synthesis of the main points.

Where and when

Part of Session "Adaptive management and governance of the food-energy-water-environment Nexus (1): Speed Talks"

31 Aug 2018

Glamorgan Building
Seminar Room -1.80

More information


Tina Schmiers


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