The grain Food-Energy-Water nexus in China: Benchmarking sustainability with generalized data envelopment analysis

Jie Yang, Jianxia Chang, Megan Konar, Yimin Wang, Jun Yao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Food insecurity can be considered as a significant cause to instability in some regions around the world. Grain production utilizes a multiple of inputs, such as: water resources, fertilizers, pesticides, energy, machinery, and labor. In China, grain production has led to huge irrigation water use, non-point source pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. It is necessary to emphasize the synergy between food production and ecological environment. In this study, a grain Food-Energy-Water nexus is delivered and an eco-efficiency sustainability evaluation metric is introduced, Sustainability of Grain Inputs (SGI), for investigating the sustainability of water and energy use in grain production across China. SGI is constructed by using generalized data envelopment analysis to comprehensively incorporate differences of water and energy inputs (including indirect energy use contained in agricultural chemicals such as fertilizers, pesticides, agricultural film, and direct energy use such as the electricity and diesel used for irrigation and agricultural machinery) in different regions across China. Both water and energy are considered by the new metric at the same time, which is built on the single resources metrices that are often used in the sustainability literature. This study evaluates the water and energy use of wheat and corn production in China. Wheat production uses water and energy sustainably in Sichuan, Shandong, and Henan; Corn production has the highest combined sustainability index in Shandong, Jilin, Liaoning, and Henan. In these areas, the grain sown area could be increased. However, wheat production in Inner Mongolia and corn production in Xinjiang rely on unsustainable water and energy inputs, and their grain sown areas could be reduced. The SGI is a tool that researchers and policy makers can use to better quantify the sustainability of water and energy inputs to grain production. It facilitates formulating policies about water saving and carbon emission reduce of grain production.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number164128
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Aug 20 2023


  • Benchmarking
  • Carbon footprint
  • Food-Energy-Water nexus
  • Generalized data envelopment analysis
  • Sustainability
  • Water footprint

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry


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