008 How much water we eat? Linkages between food, water, energy and forests

Building on nexus approach by presenting case studies on food, water, energy and forestry linkages


  • Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland
  • Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Finland
  • Aalto University (Finland)
  • FAO
  • Agriculture Development Organization, Somalia


Achieving Sustainable Development Goals requires a systematic approach to address the linkages between the different goals to avoid trade-offs, build synergies and improve governance across the sectors. This Side Event looks at the linkages that food has with water, energy and forests, both separately and together. Building on the idea of water-energy-food security nexus, the aim is to understand how these critical resource sectors (and related SDGs) are linked, and how the recent discussion on nexus approaches could also promote a broader view on food security.
Food, water, energy and forests are linked through natural systems and land use, but also through social and economic development. Yet, they are often managed separately, with sectoral policies and institutions failing to fully address the possible externalities to other sectors and themes. Sometimes such externalities might be synergistic, while sometimes we might see serious trade-offs.
The linkages of these four sectors become visible through land use, which can be understood as food, feed, fiber and fuel production in our agricultural and forest land. Such production is very much dependent on water resources, with agriculture being the greatest water user globally. On the other hand food, feed and fiber production has also a major impact on available water resources and water quality. The strengths of these interlinkages are case-specific, depending on local natural endowments as well as socio-economic and institutional structures.
Nexus can thus be seen to have three parallel dimensions: 1) nexus-based analysis (creating information on linkages plus their trade-offs and synergies), 2) nexus governance (focusing on policy coherence and cross-sectoral collaboration), and 3) nexus as a broader discourse that challenges the sectoral targets and promotes a more holistic view on sustainable development (Keskinen et al. 2016). The aim of the Side Event is to discuss all these dimensions.   
This Side Event provides an interactive platform to discuss the linkages that food security has for water, energy and forest. The event consists of three parts, with first part setting the scene on nexus approach and the second part presenting then related case studies from different regions of the world. After, an interactive session building on participants' own experiences aims to bring together the diversity of views regarding the nexus approach and its applicability in the context of food security.

Key speakers/presenters

  • Jaana Husu-Kallio, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Finland
  • Seppo Rekolainen, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Finland
  • Marko Keskinen, Aalto University, Finland
  • Olivier Dubois, FAO
  • Narayan Wagle, Rural Village Water Resource Management Project, Nepal
  • Hussein Ismail Jama, Agriculture Development Organization, Somalia
  • Lucia de Strasser, UNECE

Main themes/issues discussed

Why does Nexus Matter?

Achieving Sustainable Development Goals requires a systematic approach to address the -linkages between the different goals to avoid trade-offs, build synergies and improve governance across the sectors. The nexus approach can be useful in enhancing all of these, as it simultaneously increases our understanding about the linkages and encourages policy coherence. Understanding the linkages and addressing them in a systematic manner is essential in achieving the corresponding SDG goals.
The Water-Energy-Food Nexus - How It Can Be Implemented?
A lot of tools on scenarios, but fewer tools on existing situations and interventions (FAO has some). Tools focus is M&E, screening (e.g. PAEGC and REEEP),trade off/synergy indicators (e.g. FAO) and measuring impacts versus indications on progress with proxies (default, good practices, ‘ask people’).

Integrated Approach of Water-Food-Energy-Forest Project in Nepal
The project has identified opportunities and challenges for implementing nexus approach in practice. Opportunities: Multi-sectoral project modalities and scope, project directly supports local governments, conducive political and legal environment/accountability and highly encouraged local governments. Challenges: technical and institutional, capacity of local governments, functional linkage between local, province and federal governments not clear, sectorality of the government system and water scarcity due to drying up of water sources in hilly area.

Food security and resilient program in northern Somalia (Somaliland)
Challenges in all aspects of nexus: food security (lack of crop diversification & drought tolerant seeds, no irrigation high), water (scarcity, poor gov. water strategy and plans, frequent droughts) and energy (high price, no resource to buy and repair conventional water pumps, no energy network at the village level). Different technologies & innovation used to tackle challenges in a comprehensive manner.

Water-Food-Energy-Ecosystems in Transboundary basins
UNECE has developed a nexus approach and methodologies to transboundary cooperation. The opportunity is that the nexus brings attention to a range of cooperation options (and their benefits): in energy: efficiency, bioenergy, hydro & fluctuating renewables; in agriculture: trade opportunities, planning on resource availability and environmental conditions and in environment: ecotourism, integrated forest management. The challenge little interaction between sectors, little willingness to cooperate. Agriculture and energy not concretely involved in transboundary cooperation (basin level) which leads to incoherence between sectoral strategies (country level: ministries and agencies) and poor cooperation in infrastructure planning and operations (private sector).

Summary of key points

  • Food-water-energy-forest -nexus approach increases efficiency of achieving Sustainable Developing Goals.
  • Tools for screening, measuring and monitoring of nexus approach is existing, but there is need for capacity building.
  • Nexus approach can be implemented in grassroot level projects, but it requires knowledge and technical and institutional capacity of government at different levels
  • Nexus approach brings cooperation options and their benefits in transboundary context but the challenges is “sector silos” and lack of interest to cooperate.


  • Aalto University’s Water & Development Research Group related to both the nexus approach and food security issues: https://wdrg.aalto.fi
  • FAO: www.fao.org/land-water/water/watergovernance/waterfoodenergynexus/en/
  • The Rural Village Water Resources Management Project (RVWRMP):
  • https://www.rvwrmp.org.np/
  • Agriculture Development Organization (ADO) and International Solidarity Foundation (ISF) Somaliland:https://www.solidaarisuus.fi/in-english/
  • UNECE:https://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/env/water/NEXUS_Wat_En_Food_Ecos_ALMATY/Nexus_brochure_final_14_08.pdf

Key take away messages

  • Nexus approach has a dual role: it can be useful in enhancing understanding of the linkages between different sectors as well as in encouraging policy coherence
  • Both of these are needed to avoid trade-offs and to promote Sustainable Development Goals
  • Institutional capacity-building focusing on the linkages between different SDGs and related sectors is important particularly in developing countries
CFS Side Event 008 - How much water we eat? Linkages between food, water, energy and forests