(Re)Connect the Nexus: Young Brazilians’ Experiences of and Learning about the Food/Water/Energy Nexus

Recent research on food-water-energy – especially that examining urban metabolisms – has tended to focus upon nexus governance and larger-scale flows of food, water and fuel between and within cities. It has tended to overlook the important ways in which diverse social groups understand, experience and participate in the nexus in their everyday lives. Moreover, recent debates about the food-water-energy nexus have neglected both the role of young people (globally), and particular manifestations of the nexus amongst diverse social groups in Brazil. We know from previous social-scientific research that young people play crucial – if often ignored – roles in securing food, water and energy, in community cohesion and resilience, and in social reproduction. In few contexts is this truer than in Brazil, which is a significant producer of both food and energy for local and global markets, where 42% of the population are aged 0-24, and where young people are still disproportionately affected by poverty and unequal access to nexus resources. Young Brazilians are – and will be – at the forefront of efforts to learn about and negotiate the nexus. Therefore, this research is well-placed to explore the experiences, tensions and opportunities of the nexus in Brazil.

In the above light, the main aim of this research is to examine young people’s (aged 10-24) understandings, experiences and participation in the ‘food-water-energy’ nexus in Brazil. Working with young people from diverse social and geographical communities, it will examine how they engage with the nexus, particularly with a view to the ways in which they offer potentially resilient solutions to nexus threats. Within this broader remit, the project will also explore whether and how Education for Sustainability (EfS) – which is featured but not compulsory in the Brazilian National Education Plan – might address inequalities, social tensions and social mobility in terms of access to nexus resources. The project will have five key research objectives, as follows.

  • O1: To conduct a large-scale baseline survey of young people’s understandings, experiences and participation in the ‘food-water-energy’ nexus in Brazil.
  • O2: To examine everyday connections between people and the nexus through qualitative research with diverse young people.
  • O3: To critically evaluate the landscape of EfS in Brazil, through the lens of the ‘food-water-energy’ nexus.
  • O4: To situate the Brazilian context within a critical evaluation of education for sustainability, globally.
  • O5: To develop a set of evidence-based resources for EfS strategies that could address the ‘food-water-energy’ nexus in Brazil.

In addition to the virtually unique focus on young people, the project adopts an innovative approach to researching the food-water-energy nexus in two ways. First, it will be truly interdisciplinary, combining experts in childhood/youth studies, education, engineering, sustainable urbanism, and geographies of food. A further objective, cutting across the five key research objectives above, will therefore be to assess how social scientists can work together with those tasked to provide education and design solutions to the nexus, to produce integrated knowledge that is surely fundamental to addressing the complexities of the nexus.

The second innovative component of this research will be to continually question the terms of the nexus itself, and their applicability to the everyday contexts of (especially young) Brazilians. In particular, our research questions seek to critically evaluate discourses of ‘reconnection’ (e.g. between people and the source of their food, water or energy) across diverse social and geographical communities in Brazil. Doing so will enable critical reflection amongst academics, policy-makers and practitioners (especially educators) about how the nexus is framed, governed, resourced and experienced – particularly in ways that are socially equitable.

Recent research about the food-water-energy nexus has tended to focus on flows (e.g. between producers and consumers) and ways of governing the nexus. However, there is a real need to examine how people (especially young people) understand, learn about and participate in the nexus, in their everyday lives. Only by doing so can we address crucial concerns – such as persistently high levels of poverty amongst Brazil’s children, their unequal access to nexus.

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