Opportunities for improved promotion of ecosystem services in agriculture under the Water-Energy-Food Nexus

  • Andrew Bell
  • Nathanial MatthewsEmail author
  • Wei Zhang


In this study, we focus on water quality as a vehicle to illustrate the role that the water, energy, and food (WEF) Nexus perspective may have in promoting ecosystem services in agriculture. The mediation of water quality by terrestrial systems is a key ecosystem service for a range of actors (municipalities, fishers, industries, and energy providers) and is reshaped radically by agricultural activity. To address these impacts, many programs exist to promote improved land-use practices in agriculture; however, where these practices incur a cost or other burden to the farmer, adoption can be low unless some form of incentive is provided (as in a payment for ecosystem services (PES) program). Provision of such incentives can be a challenge to sustain in the long term, if there is not a clear beneficiary or other actor willing to provide them. Successfully closing the loop between impacts and incentives often requires identifying a measurable and valuable service with a clear central beneficiary that is impacted by the summative effects of the diffuse agricultural practices across the landscape. Drawing on cases from our own research, we demonstrate how the WEF Nexus perspective—by integrating non-point-source agricultural problems under well-defined energy issues—can highlight central beneficiaries of improved agricultural practice, where none may have existed otherwise.


Ecosystems Water-energy-food nexus Hydropower Agriculture Payment for ecosystem services Systems thinking Integrated pest management 



The authors thank the anonymous reviewers and the editors for their helpful comments. Malawi work was funded under two independent projects. The first of these ‘Smart Subsidies for Catchment Conservation in Malawi’ (NERC Reference NE/L001624/1) was funded with support from the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) programme. The ESPA programme is funded by the Department for International Development (DFID), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). The second grant was funded by the BASIS AMA Innovation Lab, which is supported by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Work in Cambodia and Vietnam was undertaken with financial support from the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land, and Ecosystems (WLE) and the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM).


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Copyright information

© AESS 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental StudiesNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.The CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems, CGIARColomboSri Lanka
  3. 3.Environment and Production Technology DivisionInternational Food Policy Research InstituteWashingtonUSA

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