Addressing the Agriculture, Energy, Water, Climate Change Nexus

12-13 August 2019, Canberra


Dr Aditi Mukherji

Principal Researcher
International Water Management Institute

Aditi Mukherji is a Principal Researcher, and is based in the International Water Management Institute, India office. Before this, she led the Water and Air Theme at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Nepal. She is the coordinating lead author of the water chapter of the 6th Assessment Report team of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). She is an associate editor of the Climate and Development Journal, and on the Editorial Board of Water Security Journal. She has over 18 years of experience working on policies and institutions of water resources management with a special focus on water-energy-food nexus. She has published over 50 peer reviewed papers. Aditi has served as a Permanent Consultative Committee member of GEF-FAO’s Groundwater Governance project hosted by FAO at Rome and is a Board member of an Indian research NGO called SACiWaters.  She is the first ever recipient of the Borlaug Field Award (2012), which recognizes “exceptional, science-based achievement in international agriculture and food production by an individual under the age of 40 who has clearly emulated the same intellectual courage, stamina and determination in the fight to eliminate global hunger and poverty as was demonstrated by Dr Norman Borlaug as a young scientist.” The award is endowed by the Rockefeller Foundation and given by the World Food Prize Foundation, USA. Aditi is a human geographer by training and has a PhD from Cambridge University, United Kingdom where she was a Gates Cambridge Scholar.

Circular food systems and solutions: addressing the nexus issues


Water-Energy-Food (WEF) nexus concept has emerged as a powerful analytical tool for understanding the complex interactions among different sectors. In this talk, I propose that we now need to move beyond analysis to explore how WEF nexus can be used to solve real world water, energy and food issues. I use the example of India’s WEF nexus to show how solutions for water sector, especially groundwater sector, can often be found in either energy or food sector. I also argue that policies that uses a nexus thinking framework are more likely to solve interconnected nexus problems.

The agriculture, groundwater and electricity sectors in India are bound in an unsustainable nexus of mutual interdependence. Growth in the agriculture sector is often reliant on unsustainable practices in the groundwater and electricity sectors. Likewise, policies and practices in one sector affect outcomes in all three sectors. The institutions undergirding India’s WEF nexus were shaped by the imperative to make India food secure at a time when hunger and starvation seemed imminent. While the Green Revolution led to an expansion in India’s food production, the de-metering of the agricultural electricity supply in late 1970s- early 1980s led to a WEF nexus that has become untenable in India today.

While many accounts of India’s rapid groundwater decline do not differentiate across contexts, my work shows that there is wide variation across states in the functioning and outcomes of the WEF nexus that leads to distinctly different outcomes with respect to sustainable development. In this talk, through three state-level case studies, I will demonstrate that variation in the WEF nexus is caused not only by the physical characteristics of groundwater endowments and rainfall-recharge in each state, but also by variation in both institutional policies and in political exigencies. It follows that policies to improve the sustainability of the WEF nexus must take into account this inter-state variation and that sustainability solution for one sector, might as well lie in other related sectors. I make a call for using WEF nexus concept for finding solutions to the nexus problem.