Research Topic

Charcoal, Food, and Water Production in the Tropics: Applying Nexus Thinking to Improve Research and Policy Approaches in Complex Landscapes

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Urbanization, food, and water consumption trends in many tropical countries show that demand for charcoal (as a source of cooking energy), meat, grain and water will rise to proportions that surpass the ability of existing ecosystems to supply these services simultaneously and at desired qualities. ...

Urbanization, food, and water consumption trends in many tropical countries show that demand for charcoal (as a source of cooking energy), meat, grain and water will rise to proportions that surpass the ability of existing ecosystems to supply these services simultaneously and at desired qualities. Consequently, drastic changes to policy and practice are needed to improve ecosystem potential and/or alter demand trends.

Traditional charcoal production in sub-Saharan Africa, South East Asia and Latin America often competes or co-exists with livestock keeping and agriculture and has a tendency to occur in water-limited woodlands. The co-occurrence of charcoal and food production results in complex landscapes characterized by strong interactions between subsystems, managed by multiple sets of actors, with potentially competing objectives. These social-ecological systems provide goods and services that are essential to millions of people throughout the global south. Nevertheless, there have been very few detailed studies of such systems, particularly on the individual and combined effects of charcoal, crop, and livestock production on the hydrological system that maintains them and vice versa. As a result, these multi-use landscapes are typically managed by short-sighted, highly generalized, mono-sectorial policies that ignore important tradeoffs and undercapitalize on synergies. A system-level approach could provide important insights that improve and expand current understanding of this energy-food-water nexus.

Tackling urgent and complex problems composed of multiple and interrelated factors lies at the heart of nexus thinking - an approach that “examines the inter-relatedness and interdependencies of environmental resources and their transitions and fluxes across spatial scales and between compartments” (UNU-FLORES 2015) and relies on interdisciplinary research and multi-sector policy teams. It has attracted significant interest from international organizations, the private sector and governments as a way to develop integrated equitable solutions that involve inputs from multiple stakeholders. However, this approach is notably absent in the research arena.

Identifying appropriate interventions for achieving sustainable charcoal and food production and maintaining the underlying hydrological system on which they depend requires that the systems are considered simultaneously and that their biophysical, social, and political inter-relations are well understood. Taking charcoal as the nexus entry-point, this Research Topic aims to generate new understanding of charcoal production systems by incorporating agriculture and hydrology into the matrix. We are interested in empirical articles, reviews, meta-analytical articles and perspective papers that address at least two of the three nexus components and which offer provocative and insightful perspectives into the nexus as a whole.

Accompanied by in-depth discussions with contributing authors, the articles will be used to develop an introductory paper that proposes a generalized conceptual framework for addressing, communicating, and assessing this nexus. We hope that this Research Topic will 1) facilitate identification of research gaps, policy opportunities and priorities for the nexus, 2) kick-start the development of a community of researchers and practitioners working on the nexus, and 3) permit the development of a research agenda that explores the nexus globally across multiple study sites.


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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