Providing sustainable supplies of water, food, and energy are deeply interrelated challenges. “It’s a major focus for researchers today as we realize the dependency of each of these systems upon the performance and sustainability of the others,” says James Wescoat, the Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Architecture and an expert in water management.
Wescoat and Afreen Siddiqi, a research scientist in MIT’s Engineering Systems Division, collaborate at the epicenter of the water-food-energy nexus, tackling those interdependencies through projects in the Indus Basin in Pakistan, which has the world’s largest contiguous network of irrigation canals. Working with Professor Abubakr Muhammad of Lahore University of Management Sciences, they are exploring the impact of smart irrigation systems on energy and food security.
Among other things, they are hopeful that a network of sensors connected to multiple IT portals in different agencies, universities, and the field will allow a more efficient use of water and the energy used to pump and transport it, all while increasing the yield of staples like wheat. Such a network “should give us more information about the water system, which then allows you to manage it better,” says Siddiqi, who notes that Pakistan’s water productivity for wheat, or the amount of wheat produced per volume of water, is one of the lowest in the world.
“My dream,” says Siddiqi, “is to harness these resources in an environmentally sensitive, sustainable way for future generations. Ultimately, what we hope is that these smart irrigation systems can improve productivity and therefore allow us to grow more with the same amount of resource.”