University of Maryland

Ensuring Food Security and Climate Resilience through a Food-Energy-Water Solution Highly Ranked

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Project Summary

Globally, 870 million people are food insecure, and climate change is crippling the interconnected water and energy resources that are essential to grow more food. Solutions to increase harvests must address this food-energy-water nexus; however, previous efforts have focused on only one component. To effect change, holistic, local solutions are urgently needed, or food insecurity will surge, decimating impoverished populations. To meet this need, our multinational university and NGO partners collaborate with vulnerable communities in Ethiopia and Nepal, implementing a threefold food-energy-water solution comprising technology- and policy-based interventions; community-driven capacity building; and experiential STEM education. Our low-cost, multisectoral approach includes on-farm implementation of horticultural, water reuse, and renewable energy technologies, and decision-support systems that inform policy frameworks. Our solution increases yields using less water and renewable energy; improves diets and public health; strengthens community-driven empowerment efforts; and can be expanded globally, building climate resilience and sustaining food security for all.

Problem Statement

Currently, 870 million people are food insecure, and climate change is crippling water and energy resources that are essential to grow more food. By 2050, there will be 9.7 billion mouths to feed, requiring a 70% increase in food production despite diminishing water and energy resources. If we cannot adopt ways to increase yields using less water and renewable energy, food insecurity will surge. To date, solutions addressing these pervasive challenges have been siloed. For instance, some initiatives have focused on increasing yields through genetically modified crops, but have neither addressed on-farm water/energy challenges nor adequately developed the capacity building and educational programs necessary to sustain the intervention. This leaves such interventions vulnerable to reduced efficacy over time, because they do not foster community-level self-determination and ownership, and are unable to withstand continual pressures on water and energy supplies critical for sustaining food production. This fundamental interconnection between food, energy, and water resources was coined the “food-energy-water nexus” in 2011. Nexus thinking moves us away from a sector-by-sector approach to a systems-based perspective, recognizing the interdependence of all three resources. In agriculture-based cultures, like Ethiopia and Nepal, women are responsible for household food, energy, and water needs, thereby representing a leverage point to effect change at the food-energy-water nexus. However, these women have not been armed with the opportunities to effectively implement food-energy-water solutions or train future generations. Our holistic approach not only addresses all components of the nexus but also mobilizes women to effect sustainable change.

Solution Overview

To increase yields using less water and renewable energy, we will expand collaborations with Ethiopian and Nepali communities, scaling a threefold solution: 1) technology- and policy-based food-energy-water interventions; 2) community-driven capacity building; and 3) experiential STEM education. On-farm interventions combine low-cost horticultural, water reuse/delivery, and renewable energy technologies. Data modeling approaches will inform local decision-making and country-level policies regarding food-energy-water systems. Capacity building will leverage local resources, cultivate partnerships with collaborating communities, and involve demonstration sites and train-the-trainer programs. Finally, the STEM program will build interdisciplinary food-energy-water research and practice skills among Ethiopian and Nepali students, increase participation of women and underrepresented minorities in STEM fields, and prepare a pipeline of professionals poised to effect change in multiple sectors. Progress will be measured through data-driven monitoring, evaluation, and learning. In five years, we expect deep, positive impacts in communities in the South Gondar, West Gojjam, and Bahir Dar Zones of Ethiopia, as well as Provinces 3 and 4 of Nepal. Impacts will include: economically independent production of increased yields using less water and renewable energy; improvements in food security, diets, and public health; generation of profitable renewable energy; networks of trained professionals with multisectoral knowledge in food-energy-water solutions; increased self-determination among key local stakeholders; and infusion of STEM skills among youth who will emerge as future leaders at the food-energy-water nexus. Our approach simultaneously addresses six UN Sustainable Development Goals: zero hunger, good health and well-being, clean water/sanitation, affordable/clean energy, responsible consumption and production, and climate action.

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Project Funders

  • National Science Foundation
  • Gelfand Family Charitable Trust
  • Big Wing Philanthropy

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