College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Participants at the Water-Energy-Food Nexus Winter School.

UKZN and Partners Host WEF NEXUS Winter School

The origins of the Water-Energy-Food (WEF) Nexus Winter School can be traced back to a workshop in March 2020, says Professor Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi of UKZN’s Centre for Transformative Agricultural and Food Systems (CTAFS).

It was during a lunch break at the workshop that the idea evolved from discussions between colleagues who set out to make it a reality. However, the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2021 scuttled plans for the first Winter School.

The team then decided to host an online WEF Nexus Masterclass in place of the Winter School as they had already invested so much time into planning.

‘The Masterclass proved to be a success with more than 80 participants from across the globe involved in the three-day online training event,’ said Mabhaudhi. The Masterclass, retained as part of the WEF Nexus capacity development programme, provides an introductory and foundational course to understanding WEF Nexus concepts and tools.

Hosted this year at the Future Africa Campus of the University of Pretoria, the WEF Nexus Winter School is a partnership between the CTAFS, IHE Delft Institute for Water Research, the Water Research Commission (WRC), WaterNet, and the Global Water Partnership Southern Africa (GWPSA). Other partners include the One CGIAR Nexus Gains Initiative, Jones and Wagener Engineering Associates and the WEF Nexus in Africa Initiative.

‘What is a nexus? Simply put, it means to connect,’ said Mabhaudhi. ‘The WEF Nexus refers to the interconnectedness of water, energy and food.’

‘The goal of the Winter School is to showcase tools for assessing trade-offs and synergies among the WEF sectors. The WEF Nexus Winter School provides an advanced hands-on experience, focusing more on tools and applications and how these can be applied in real world contexts. Focusing on early career researchers, the Winter School aims to build their capacity in this emerging research area.’

‘The inspiration for this initiative is continuing capacity development and training people within the various regions who can really make a difference because as teachers we are the multipliers of the people we teach,’ said UKZN’s Professor Graham Jewitt, one of the partners in the Winter School.

The Winter School also included participants from different backgrounds as part of strengthening the science-policy-practice interface. The diverse participation provided a platform for collaborative and transdisciplinary problem solving.

The participants spent five days learning various tools and applications for assessing the WEF Nexus. On the first day, they were placed into five groups, representing five southern African countries. Part of the process was for them to use these countries as case studies for which they would be applying the tools learned. This culminated in a mini-summit on the last day, facilitated by GWP-SA, where participants presented their country case studies and policy recommendations, thus completing a circle of learning WEF nexus concepts, tools and discourse and their application for informing policy and investment planning.

It was not all work and no play. On the third day, participants had an opportunity to visit the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) campuses in Roodeplaat and Silverton in Pretoria where they were given a tour of various facilities such as hydroponics and biogas digesters.

The cherry on top was the launch of the Water Energy Food Nexus Narratives and Resource Securities., which coincided with a gala dinner.

A Global South Perspective – a book edited by Mabhaudhi, Jewitt, Professor Aidan Senzanje, Professor Albert Modi and Professor Festo Massawe – provides a unique perspective of the WEF Nexus from a Global South perspective. With at least three of the editors forming part of the WEF Nexus Winter School facilitation team, participants learned how the book is a synthesis of knowledge on research, policy and practice case studies on the WEF Nexus.

‘The programme enlarged my horizons in terms of my way of thinking and increased my knowledge within my career and also inspired me to start working more on the nexus approach and inspiring others,’ said Professor Brown Gwambene, a lecturer and researcher at the University of Iringa in Tanzania.

‘I would like to incorporate the WEF nexus more into sanitation and circular economy aspects,’ said Ms Mendy Shozi, MSc Environmental Science Researcher at UKZN’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Research and Development Centre (WASH R&D Centre).

‘Our intention is to build the WEF Nexus Masterclass and Winter School into annual events for WEF Nexus capacity development,’ said Mabhaudhi. ‘We will soon launch a community of practice to support continuous networking and knowledge sharing.’

WordsCindy Chamane

Photograph: Supplied