Humanity is reliant upon the physical resources and natural systems of the Earth for the provision of food, energy, and water. It is becoming imperative that we determine how society can best integrate across the natural and built environments to provide for a growing demand for food, water and energy while maintaining appropriate ecosystem services. Factors contributing to stresses in the food, energy, and water (FEW) systems include increasing regional and social pressures and governance issues as result of land use change, climate variability, and heterogeneous resource distribution. These interconnections and interdependencies associated with the food, energy and water nexus create research grand challenges in understanding how the complex, coupled processes of society and the environment function now, and in the future. There is a critical need for research that enables new means of adapting to future challenges. The FEW systems must be defined broadly, incorporating physical processes (such as built infrastructure and new technologies for more efficient resource utilization), natural processes (such as biogeochemical and hydrologic cycles), biological processes (such as agroecosystem structure and productivity), social/behavioral processes (such as decision making and governance), and cyber elements. Investigations of these complex systems may produce discoveries that cannot emerge from research on food or energy or water systems alone. It is the synergy among these components in the context of sustainability that will open innovative science and engineering pathways to produce new knowledge and novel technologies to solve the challenges of scarcity and variability.
The overarching goal of INFEWS is to catalyze the well-integrated interdisciplinary research efforts to transform scientific understanding of the FEW nexus in order to improve system function and management, address system stress, increase resilience, and ensure sustainability. The NSF INFEWS initiative is designed specifically to attain the following goals:
Significantly advance our understanding of the food-energy-water system through quantitative and computational modeling, including support for relevant cyberinfrastructure;
Develop real-time, cyber-enabled interfaces that improve understanding of the behavior of FEW systems and increase decision support capability;
Enable research that will lead to innovative system and technological solutions to critical FEW problems; and
Grow the scientific workforce capable of studying and managing the FEW system, through education and other professional development opportunities.
This activity enables interagency cooperation on one of the most pressing problems of the millennium - understanding interactions across the food, energy and water nexus - how it is likely to affect our world, and how we can proactively plan for its consequences. It allows the partner agencies - National Science Foundation (NSF) and the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA/NIFA) and others - to combine resources to identify and fund the most meritorious and highest-impact projects that support their respective missions, while eliminating duplication of effort and fostering collaboration between agencies and the investigators they support.
NSF and USDA/NIFA are interested in promoting international cooperation that links scientists and engineers from a range of disciplines and organizations to solve the significant global challenges at the nexus of food, energy and water systems. Proposals including international collaboration are encouraged when those efforts enhance the merit of the proposed work by incorporating unique resources, expertise, facilities or sites of international partners. The U.S. team’s international counterparts generally should have support or obtain funding through other non-NSF sources.