The politics of integrated planning for water, energy and food in Kenya

The politics of integrated planning for water, energy and food in Kenya

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Date: 15th January 2016
Author: CDKN Africa
Type: Feature
Organisation: Pegasys
Countries: Africa, Kenya
Tags: climate finance, energy, food security, gender, irrigated agriculture, nexus, sustainable livelihoods approaches, sustainable water management, sustainable water management, water-energy-food nexus, water-energy-food nexus


Making decisions over water, energy and food issues in a changing climate can open opportunities for integrated thinking – and raise tensions among different interest groups. How does it work in Kenya? Barbara Schreiner of Pegasys presents initial results from her team's research.

Issues of water, energy and food are interrelated in many and complex ways: water plays a vital role in both food and energy production; energy is required for food production (especially irrigation) and for water supply; and for adequate food production there is a need for land, energy, and water. Because of this, there is an increasing recognition that these interrelations – the so-called water-energy-food nexus – need to be tackled in an integrated way, not in separate ‘silos’. The need for integrated planning becomes even more urgent and important with climate change, which puts additional risks on water, energy and food systems.

Enhancing institutional arrangements for integrated water, energy and food security in Kenya is a CDKN-funded project which seeks to explore barriers and opportunities for integrated nexus planning in Kenya with a view to increased resilience to climate change. The project has a particular interest in analysing processes at subnational level, focusing on three counties: Laikipia, Machakos and Narok. This county focus is important because the Kenyan national government has been devolving power, which is giving county governments increasing power over their resources (2010 Kenyan Constitution).

This research comes at an opportune time as climate finance is increasingly aimed at not only providing funding to national levels, but also making financial resources available at subnational levels. The project aims to contribute to a better understanding of how counties can be better positioned to mobilise climate funds to address key water, energy and food nexus concerns.

Understanding the actor landscape

A workshop held in Nairobi last year brought together a range of actors in public institutions and civil society. For the mapping exercise we used Participatory Impacts Pathways Analysis (PIPA), an interactive mapping exercise pioneered by International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

The project team used this tool to go beyond just identifying and mapping formal structures and processes; by listening to the discussions of participants present (who didn’t always agree with one another), we started to understand the realities behind decision making and implementation at the county levels. Such mapping exercises only ever give a snapshot of the situation at a given time, and reflects the consensus of the particular actors in the room. The strength of the maps is in their ability to visualise the real – as opposed to the formal – picture of who the major actors are, their relationships, and relative power. Some participants said the exercise gave them ‘light bulb moments’ in showing how things worked in practice at the county level. It also helped participants understand their own position and role in the networks. Importantly, the exercise helped reveal the ‘allies’ and two ‘opponents’, i.e. the key actors the project needs to engage with in order to support a more integrated approach to tackling water, energy and food challenges in the face of climate change.

What did we learn from the mapping?

First, there are a large number of actors that play, or could play, supportive roles at county level. Many participants at the workshop felt that the network mapping had been an ‘eye opener’, and some were disappointed in seeing their own organisation being considered to be at the periphery rather than at the centre of debates, where they had thought they were. This shows that while many organisations acknowledge the need for a more integrated way of working on water-energy-food nexus issues, there is some way to go still before this is happening in practice.

Second, there are several key actors across the counties that are currently opposed to, or explicitly or implicitly undermining integrated planning around water, energy and food issues. The reasons for this vary. Examples include: Institutional power struggles, insufficient awareness of the value of nexus thinking, etc. Participants noted that there is a particular challenge in working with private sector actors, such as logging and mining companies. As key investors, they shape, and sometimes dominate, nexus debates.

Third, the exercise revealed significant gender differences. In Machakos, women’s groups were considered to be not only strongly connected to the issue, but also powerful players. In the two other counties, women groups were either absent or played less important roles. This raises important questions of how gender sensitive and socially inclusive water-energy-food integration strategies are, and in turn how men and women will be able to benefit from better integration.

Where do we go from here?

The mapping exercise has formed the basis for further data collection, including government document reviews and in depth interviews at county level and will be followed by policy roundtables. We aim to create spaces at the policy events to strengthen old relationships and (where needed) help to build new ones, and to discuss strategies to overcome obstacles and challenges to integration. With the devolution process in Kenya, conflict and disputes over resources have emerged that may influence how counties integrate water, energy and food and climate change concerns. The project is an attempt at understanding, and responding to, the changing actor landscape as it unfolds.

Visit the project page for more information.



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