The water-energy-food nexus: paving the way for climate resilience in Kenya

By integrating sustainable energy and water management practices into agriculture, we ensure improved food and nutrition security, increased agricultural productivity, and resilience in the face of climate challenges.

In the expansive Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) of Kenya – areas that account for over 80% of the country’s land – resides a population of over 17 million people. Despite being home to over 35% of Kenya’s populace, these regions grapple with daunting challenges that hinder their social and economic development. With a poverty rate standing at a staggering 60%, agricultural productivity in these areas is half of what is seen in other regions, and malnutrition rates are alarmingly high.

To navigate the myriad of sustainable development challenges in the region, SNV has embedded a nexus approach in its projects, crafting strategies that intertwine water, energy, and food systems seamlessly. This methodology acknowledges and leverages the intricate connections among these vital systems, paving the way for enhanced climate resilience and sustainability in Kenya’s vulnerable arid regions.

In Kenya, several projects have successfully adopted the nexus approach to bolster climate resilience and improve sustainability, achieving remarkable results, especially in arid regions.

Strengthening institutional capacities: a multi-sector approach

With an emphasis on strengthening both institutional capacities for climate adaptation at the county level and enhancing knowledge and implementation of climate-smart irrigation technologies among smallholder farmers, SNV implements the LISTEN project. This four-year initiative, a collaboration between SNV and other partners, fortifies regions against climate change impacts while safeguarding food, nutrition, and water security.

By employing a nexus approach, it not only recognises but also capitalises on the complementary activities of various agencies across different sectors. This approach garners community support and facilitates service delivery with assistance from the private sector wherever feasible.

In the words of Florence Mwangangi, the Director of Crops and Agriculture in the Isiolo County, the nexus approach emerges as a powerful catalyst for sustainable agriculture and food systems. She asserts, ‘It dismantles traditional siloing in county planning, ensuring interconnectedness and synergies across sectors. It addresses water scarcity, agriculture, livestock, and human consumption in the context of climate change. This approach not only enhances resource efficiency but also minimises environmental degradation and mitigates conflicts.’

Florence Mwangangi, Director of Crops and Agriculture - Isiolo County, monitoring the ongoing rehabilitation and solarization works at a borehole that was rehabilitated by the LISTEN project.

Through a partnership with the British Army Training Unit in Kenya, the LISTEN project is undertaking the rehabilitation of boreholes in the county, to become fully solarized and support agricultural production.

Stephen Gichuki, the project manager for the LISTEN Project, adds that the nexus approach also enhances financial and human resource efficiency by involving stakeholders and promoting cross-sector collaboration. This collaborative strategy inspires innovation and facilitates inclusive decision-making. The approach aligns policies across departments, promoting coherent and transformative changes that benefit both the local communities and the government agencies.

To integrate water resource management, the LISTEN project collaborates with smallholder farmers in the Ewaso Nyíro basin, sharing knowledge on Integrated Water Resource Management. It engages with various sectors and ministries, providing technical support for efficient water utilisation, sustainable resource management, and ecosystem management.

The LISTEN project, slated for completion by March 2024, is meticulously designed to yield tangible, impactful outcomes. These include improved climate resilience frameworks at the county level, enhanced water and resource management in the Ewaso Nyiro River Basin Ecosystem, and increased production and incomes through the widespread adoption of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), efficient water practices, and innovative technologies in selected value chains.

Furthermore, the project aims to amplify the use of knowledge and innovative management practices in ASALs, with a commitment to reaching 180,000 beneficiaries, including 20,000 households and 1,000 participating actors from government and private sector agencies. With a focus on inclusivity, the initiative ensures the active participation of women and young people, who constitute 66% of the project's target population.

Catalysing sustainable development with innovative, integrated solutions

SNV’s Integrated & Climate Smart Innovation for Agropastoralist Economies and Landscapes (ICSIAPL) project is a pivotal initiative unfolding in the counties of Kajiado, Taita Taveta, and Narok, which are primarily arid and semi-arid lands. Working closely with the county governments, ICSIAPL plays a significant role in formulating policies, implementing strategies, and creating an enabling environment conducive for sustainable development.

This project, in close collaboration with other partners, facilitates the development and dissemination of innovative, context-specific solutions that are crucial for the regions’ sustainability and resilience. The thrust of ICSIAPL is to diligently address the intricate interdependencies between water, energy, and food systems, thereby laying a strong foundation for sustainable farming practices and conservation.

Central to the ICSIAPL project's approach is the promotion of sustainable farming practices, such as the use of drought-tolerant fodder varieties, which are not only water-efficient, but are also instrumental in regenerating degraded landscapes. These strategically chosen varieties pave the way for the emergence of landscapes that are both productive and resilient to the changing climate. Through these interventions, the project empowers local communities and enhances food and nutrition security, while minimising the environmental footprint of production processes.


A farmer in the Kajiado county standing in his well-matured grass field of boma-Rhodes, a drought tolerant fodder variety.

Julius Rono, the project manager, highlights the transformational aspect of ICSIAPL. He points out that the transition from subsistence pastoral systems to market-based ones under the project’s framework enables communities to create wealth and enhance ecosystem health. The project is committed to inclusive economic activities that actively involve marginalised groups, thus fostering a sense of community and shared responsibility.

ICSIAPL adopts a consultative approach, deeply engaging with local communities and placing high value on indigenous knowledge. The project seeks to transform the livelihoods of 10,000 agropastoralists living in the Southern rangelands of Kenya through improved fodder technologies and integrated landscape management practices. The initiative also successfully attracts more than 100 private sector investments in ASALs, emphasizing the importance of not viewing interventions in isolation but considering the broader nexus.

SNV’s dedication: a nexus approach

Through initiatives like LISTEN and ICSIAPL, SNV’s application of the nexus approach in Kenya has yielded encouraging results in enhancing climate resilience. It has fostered an environment where silos in county planning are dismantled, synergy across sectors is encouraged, and a holistic strategy is adopted to address water scarcity, sustainable agriculture, livestock management, and human consumption in an integrated manner.

SNV’s initiatives, embodying a shift from subsistence pastoral systems to market-based approaches, have facilitated the engagement of local communities and attracted private sector investments. The water-energy-food nexus approach stands out as a robust tool for sustainable development in Kenya's ASALs, providing comprehensive solutions to challenges while ensuring the sustainability of vital resources. With a commitment to innovation and community empowerment, SNV continues to pave the way for a future where resilience and sustainability are within reach for all in Kenya.

Learn more about SNV's work in Kenya