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Operationalizing water-energy-food nexus research for sustainable development in social-ecological systems: an interdisciplinary learning case in Central Asia

Ahmad Hamidov, Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF), Germany; Tashkent Institute of Irrigation and Agricultural Mechanization Engineers (TIIAME), Uzbekistan
Katrin Daedlow, Agriculture and Food Policy Group, Humboldt-Universit├Ąt zu Berlin, Germany
Heidi Webber, Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF), Germany
Hussam Hussein, Department of Politics and International Relations (DPIR), University of Oxford, UK; International Agricultural Policy and Environmental Governance, University of Kassel, Germany
Ilhom Abdurahmanov, Tashkent Institute of Irrigation and Agricultural Mechanization Engineers (TIIAME), Uzbekistan
Aleksandr Dolidudko, Scientific Research Institute of Irrigation and Water Problems, Uzbekistan
Ali Yawar Seerat, Faculty of Agriculture, Bamyan University, Afghanistan
Umida Solieva, Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy, Central European University, Austria
Tesfaye Woldeyohanes, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)-World Agroforestry (ICRAF), Kenya
Katharina Helming, Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF), Germany; University for Sustainable Development (HNEE), Germany


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In social-ecological systems, natural resource management can be characterized by trade-offs across sectors and sustainability targets. The water-energy-food (WEF) nexus concept makes explicit various trade-offs in order to maximize synergies of interventions. However, there are few successful examples of its operationalization in research settings. Here, we explore in a learning setting if sustainability impact assessment (SIA) protocols can be a useful process to be used to adopt a systemic, interdisciplinary perspective to operationalize WEF nexus in research for sustainable development. The process and method adopted of SIA protocol, evaluated for five exemplary WEF nexus cases in Central Asia during a week-long international workshop, adequately addressed the complexity of WEF interrelationships and associated sustainability issues, and facilitated a comparative case study analysis across scales. Results within this process highlight that water governance was critical for large-scale transboundary WEF nexus management, while land and soil management were decisive for minimizing trade-offs at local levels. Issues of interdisciplinarity, complexity, uncertainty, and reflection on impacts were adequately addressed, but challenges remain in the consideration of ethics and the design of transparent, multi-actor cooperation. Most importantly, this exercise showed that employment of the process of SIA protocol supported disciplinary experts to work across disciplines and take a systemic approach for analyzing WEF nexus.

Key words

Afghanistan; Central Asia; impact assessment; interdisciplinarity; socially responsible research; systemic approach

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087