How agricultural research can navigate the perfect storm

Storm Clouds

We are the authors of unintended consequences

Too often, meeting one need harms our ability to meet others. To date, agricultural research has delivered field level innovations: we develop new seeds or new irrigation or soil management techniques. But typically these include only partial assessments of systems or landscape level impacts. We see similar toxic errors in energy, water and other development projects where agriculture is deprioritized – and ultimately degraded.

Consider India, where advances in groundwater pumping technology and government subsidies helped farmers meet short-term irrigation needs, but dangerously depleted groundwater levels. Or large hydropower dams: they may quench our thirst for energy, but often harm food production and fish populations – and hence vulnerable communities.

A Nexus approach helps manage such tradeoffs. One potential…