The water-energy-food security nexus through the lenses of the value chain and the institutional analysis and development frameworks

Sergio Villamayor-Tomas, Philipp Grundmann, Graham Epstein, Tom Evans, Christian Kimmich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

107 Scopus citations


A number of frameworks have been used to study the water-food-energy nexus; but few of these consider the role of institutions in mediating environmental outcomes. In this paper we aim to start filling that gap by combining insights from the Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) framework and value chain analysis. Specifically we study food, energy and water value chains as networks of action situations (NAS) where actors' decisions depend not only on the institutional structure of a particular situation but also on the decisions made in related situations. Although the IAD framework has developed a solid reputation in the policy sciences, empirical applications of the related NAS concept are rare. Value-chain analysis can help drawing the empirical boundaries of NAS as embedded in production processes. In this paper we first use value-chain analysis to identify important input-output linkages among water, food and energy production processes, and then apply the IAD-NAS approach to better understand the effect of institutions within and across those processes. The resulting combined framework is then applied to four irrigation-related case studies including: the use of energy for water allocation and food production in an irrigation project in Spain; the production and allocation of treated water for food and bioenergy production in Germany; the allocation of water for food production and urban use in Kenya; and the production and allocation of energy for food production in Hyderabad, India. The case analyses reveal the value of the framework by demonstrating the importance of establishing linkages across energy, water and food-related situations and the ways in which institutions limit or facilitate synergies along the value chains.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)735-755
Number of pages21
JournalWater Alternatives
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2015


  • Institutional analysis and development framework
  • Irrigation cases
  • Socio-ecological systems framework
  • Value-chain analysis
  • Water-energy-food nexus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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