Several studies have highlighted the need for multiscale water–energy–land–food (WELF) nexus studies to ensure sustainable food production without endangering water and energy security. However, a systematic attempt to evaluate the efficiency of such multiscale studies has not yet been made. In this study, we used a data-intensive crop water requirement model to study the multiscale WELF nexus in southern India. In particular, we estimated the groundwater and energy consumption for cultivating five major crops between 2017 and 2019 at three distinct spatial scales ranging from 160 000 km2 (state) to 11 000 km2 (district) to 87 km2 (block). A two-at-one-time approach was used to develop six WELF interactions for each crop, which was used to evaluate the performance of each region. A gross vulnerability index was developed at multiple scales that integrated the WELF interactions to identify vulnerable hotspots from a nexus perspective. Results from this nexus study identified the regions that accounted for the largest groundwater and energy consumption, which were also adjudged to be vulnerable hotspots. Our results indicate that while a finer analysis may be necessary for drought-resistant crops like groundnut, a coarser scale analysis may be sufficient to evaluate the agricultural efficiency of water-intensive crops like paddy and sugarcane. We identified that vulnerable hotspots at local scales were often dependent on the crop under consideration, i.e. a hotspot for one crop may not necessarily be a hotspot for another. Clearly, policymaking decisions for improving irrigation efficiency through interventions such as crop-shifting would benefit from such insights. It is evident that such approaches will play a critical role in ensuring food-water-energy security in the coming decades.
Gaddam, S. J., & Sampath, P. V. (2022). Are multiscale water–energy–land–food nexus studies effective in assessing agricultural sustainability?. Environmental Research Letters, 17(1), 014034.
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