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Abstract

The Water–Energy–Food (WEF) nexus concept has emerged as a powerful analytical tool for understanding the complex interactions among different sectors. In this paper, I propose that we now need to move beyond analysis to explore how the 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 the water sector, especially the groundwater sector, can often be found in either the energy or the food sector. I also argue that policies that use 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 a sustainability solution for one sector might as well lie in other related sectors. I make a call for using the WEF nexus concept for finding solutions to the nexus problem.

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