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SEI brief

Applying the nexus – meeting Ethiopia’s development goals by addressing links between water, energy and food

This policy brief reports on one of the first times that a nexus approach has been applied on the ground.


Karlberg, L., H. Hoff, T. Amsalu, K. Andersson, T. Binnington, F. Flores-López, A. de Bruin, S.G. Gebrehiwot, B. Gedif, F. zur Heide, O. Johnson, M. Osbeck and C. Young. (2014). Applying the nexus – meeting Ethiopia’s development goals by addressing links between water, energy and food. SEI policy brief.

SEI used its nexus toolkit – the WEAP and LEAP tools for water and energy planning – to assess the ambitious development plans of the Ethiopian Government in terms of their impact on food, energy and the environment.

SEI worked with local planners, scientists and NGO staff from the agriculture, energy, water and environment sectors to develop three scenarios. One was a business as usual path, the second followed the government’s national growth plans, and the third took a nexus approach. The work revealed that, by not taking sufficient account of the links between sectors and resources, the government’s plans may not be sustainable or achievable without a toll on human well-being and ecosystems.

The nexus scenario on the other hand, while more ambitious than the government plans, gave greater priority to sustainable resource use and also performed better across a range of indicators.

The study also found that Ethiopia appears to have hit a “biomass ceiling”. The country currently uses approximately the same amount of biomass for food, fodder and fuel as grows there (i.e. primary productivity). This hinders agricultural production, threatens biodiversity and may in the long-term constrain Ethiopia’s economic development. To unlock the full potential of agriculture and to protect biodiversity in ecosystems such as wetlands and forests, there is an urgent need to shift away from the use of traditional biomass for energy, and to reduce livestock grazing on croplands.

Applying SEI’s nexus toolkit enabled joint learning between stakeholders from the agriculture, energy, water and environment sectors. In areas such as Lake Tana, where different groups and ecosystems require water for different and sometimes competing purposes, dialogue is critical on, for example, how reservoirs operate and on the rules that govern hydropower and irrigation dams.

The brief concludes with a set of policy recommendations.


Download the policy brief (PDF: 819 kb)

SEI authors

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