event 10 Oct 2018

Science Forum 2018 Background Paper // Water-Energy-Food Nexus Interactions and Agriculture Research for Development

By Dr. Mathew Kurian. The impact of Agriculture Research for Development (ARD) is key to justifying investments in technologies and management models with potential to address environmental challenges such as climate change and advance the cause of poverty reduction. Agriculture has become the key driver for four Planetary Boundaries (PB’s) that are at a critical stage of risk at a time when two billion people who lack sufficient calories and nutrients co-exist with approximately two billion others who consume too many calories. This imbalance in food security is reflected in an imbalance in the bio-physical world; evident in trends such as the transformation of the Nitrogen and Water cycle.

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Circular economy arguments for adoption of retrofit, reuse, re-manufacture, reduce and replace are crucial in trying to restore balance between how much is being consumed and by whom. Trade-off analysis can reveal the costs of switching to alternative models of production and the incentives that are required for cooperation at transboundary, regional and local government levels to emerge. Crucial to such analysis are the use of “thresholds” for examination of biophysical and institutional dimensions of resource use that operate at both planetary and administrative scales.

Qualitative, descriptive studies of adoption pathways in the real world may be useful for generating hypotheses, but there has been insufficient attention to putting these hypotheses to a rigorous test. It is in this connection that place-based observatories can play an important role in supporting integrative modelling by downscaling global environmental models, developing nexus typologies of a developmental challenge and advancing data valorisation and knowledge translation through pilot-testing of composite indices.

This paper was commissioned by the ISPC to set the scene and guide Science Forum 2018 discussions.


Science Forum 2018 website (open access)


September 2018


Dr. Mathew Kurian, United Nations University.

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