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The FEWLB Nexus Project has developed a conceptual framework to provide guidance for nexus-based research, analysis and decision making in the South African context. The framework is applicable at multiple spatial scales, but will during this project be used towards a fine-scale analysis of the nexus in the Berg River catchment, as an example. It draws on other international nexus frameworks but brings in some new elements, notably a distinction between land and water as natural resources central to the functioning of food, energy and ecological production systems, and with competing allocations to human settlements and industry/commerce.

In the South African and Western Cape context, the national, provincial and municipal development goals provide the starting point for the nexus approach. They capture the social and economic complexities and needs at various scales. South Africa strives to ensure alignment between the various strategic plans through the IDP process, an integrated inter-governmental system of planning which requires the involvement of all three spheres of government. Provision is also made for contributions and comments from the private sector and civil society.

The Nexus Framework starting point and its envisaged outcomes are provided by, amongst others, the National Development Plan (Vision 2030), National Strategic Integrated Projects (SIPs), the Western Cape Provincial Strategic Objectives (2010), the Western Cape Green Economy Strategy Framework (2013), and the District Municipalities’ Strategic Objectives. The nexus-relevant cross-cutting objectives are inclusive economic growth, job creation and poverty reduction; improved infrastructure and service delivery; the transition to a low-carbon or green economy; and sustainable resource management and use. The outcomes (Hoff 2011) represent the three legs of sustainable development, namely society (the promotion of water, energy and food security for all), economy (equitable and sustainable growth) and environment (a resilient, productive environment). These outcomes could be achieved through specific governance and financial approaches, tools and decision support systems.

The Framework also accounts for external global, national and local trends and drivers which have a bearing on the pressure experienced within the nexus. These include population growth, urbanisation, globalization and the global economic crisis, climate change, politics, and the volatility of global energy and food markets. They can change the “state” of the nexus either quickly or in the longer term, and often in unanticipated ways.

The central nexus (the ‘system’) depicts the extended FEW nexus agreed for this project – whilst the food-energy-water triangle is shown; a similar triangle exists for food-energy-land, for biodiversity-energy-land, for biodiversity-food-water, and so on. In other words, this framework places water and land/soil at the centre, representing natural resources which are extracted and used for biomass production (both cultivated and natural) and some forms of energy production. They are also used by humans for domestic and industrial purposes, and are intensively managed and allocated by humans according to agreed norms. If the nexus is to be used for policy development and project planning and implementation purposes in resource-constrained systems, resource management has to be the central consideration. Also, biodiversity should be given the same consideration as food and energy given its critical role in supporting sustainable production either directly or indirectly via the resource base.

The central nexus (“system”) can be further examined to describe the possible inter-linkages between the five elements. All linkages are dynamic and can operate in both directions.

The key interlinkages could be summarized as follows:

  1. Energy-land-water:
    • Water is required for energy extraction and generation
    • Energy is required for the extraction, treatment and distribution of water
    • Land is needed for the production of biofuels and energy infrastructure including renewables 
  2. Food-land-water:
    • Land and water are primary resources for agriculture
    • Agriculture impacts on soil and water availability and quality
  3. Energy-food:
    • Energy is required in the form of electricity and fuel for the production, processing, packaging, storage and distribution of agricultural produce
    • Biofuels, biomass and organic waste are used for energy generation and fuel production
  4. Biodiversity-land-water:
    • Land provides habitats for biodiversity
    • Biodiversity and ecosystem services support soil development and fertility
    • Biodiversity and ecosystems need water to function (the ecological reserve)
    • Biodiversity and ecosystem services help to regulate hydrological processes and water quality
  5. Biodiversity-food:
    • Insects and other pollinators provide pollination services to agriculture
    • Biological pest control reduces the need for chemical interventions
    • Sensitive farming can provide habitats for biodiversity
  6. Biodiversity-energy:
    • Non-farm biomass provides wood fuel

Although not shown in this framework, fossil fuel-based energy and synthetic nitrogen-based fertilisers, as well as livestock farming, are linked to the production of greenhouse gases which leads to climate change and complex impacts on land, water, biodiversity and agriculture.

Human systems are also strongly linked to the nexus and are shown as external components. Water, land, energy and food are required for people in urban and rural settlements, and for industry and commerce. Biodiversity provides many positive opportunities for people in the form of leisure, sporting and cultural activities, and for well-being.