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Food-Energy-Water nexus (grant summary)

FEW Supplement to NSF award: 1360398

Dr. David Borrok in the School of Geosciences with collaborators Dr. Rafael Hernandez in Chemical Engineering, Dr. David Stevens in the College of Business Administration, and Dr. Whitney Broussard III in the Institute for Coastal and Water Research have received a $96,645 grant to study relationships among food, energy, and water.

Project Summary

Relating energy, water, and land use footprints to decision making in agricultural systems

Multifaceted interactions and feedbacks among food, energy, and water (FEW) are globally ubiquitous, but poorly understood. Pressures from climate and increased demand are beginning to stress FEW systems, leading to competition for natural resources. Hence, understanding the FEW nexus is becoming critical for sound policy development and the well-being of humankind. Our supplement will leverage the spatial analysis framework for water resources that our team has developed as part of a current NSF WSC project. We will use this framework to calculate and analyze footprints for energy, water, and land use associated with irrigation and fertilizer inputs for food production. We will link these relationships with decision-making (i.e., social/behavioral feedbacks) to test hypotheses related to the influence of energy costs, drought, and demand stress on the footprints associated with the FEW system. Through this work we expect to build a GIS-based tool where the FEW relationships can be evaluated. Stakeholders, such as farmers, regulatory agencies, and economic development organizations need tools like these to analyze FEW relationships and determine the best cropping and water source alternatives for agricultural operations.

Intellectual Merit

The "holy grail" of investigating the FEW nexus is to develop a systems-level framework for planning and management to achieve sustainability and to promote action by identifying policy entry points. Several conceptual frameworks have already been proposed. All of these borrow from well-established concepts like complex systems theory and adaptive management. There is, however, a critical problem with applying these concepts, which were developed for single systems like water or even 2-component systems like water and food, to the multicomponent FEW nexus. We simply do not have a full understanding of all the interactions and feedbacks among the components. Our proposed investigation of FEW relationships and social/behavior feedbacks within the "front end" of food systems addresses some of these important knowledge gaps. Our project is unique and potentially transformative because we will be linking spatial and temporal footprints for the components of the FEW nexus with decision making at the user level. We can use this approach to evaluate decision making thresholds that cause feedbacks that impact FEW relationships. Understanding these complex relationships is necessary to develop a systems management framework for the FEW nexus.

Broader Impacts

We will leverage our current WSC project to integrate FEW concepts into courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels, as well as outreach opportunities. Our WSC project, which is the foundation for this supplement, has done a particularly good job of encouraging the participation of female faculty and students. We expect this to continue for the supplement project. Moreover, this supplement includes funding for Broussard, an early career scientist. We will increase human and pedagogical infrastructure by developing a new investigative team of researchers, Hernandez and Stevens, who will be integrated into our larger investigative team for the WSC project. Moreover, we will further extend our FEW network of investigators by collaborating with the Water Institute of the Gulf. Results will be presented at national and international scientific meetings and as peer-reviewed journal articles.