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On October 9, 2020 SSC Co-Chair Navin Ramankutty was awarded the prestigious Wihuri International Prize in recognition of his long-standing work on sustainable global food systems.
As Canada Research Chair in Global Environmental Change and Food Security at The University of British Columbia, Professor Navin Ramankutty is a leading researcher in global sustainable land use and food systems. His research uses global data and models to understand how humans use and modify the Earth’s land surface for agriculture, to evaluate resulting global environmental consequences, and to explore solutions to the problem of improving food security with minimal environmental footprint.
In the last decade, Ramankutty’s research focused on the challenge of feeding a growing global population in ways that are more environmentally sustainable and climate resilient. He was part of the team that published a study in 2011 proposing four major solutions to achieving a doubling of available food calories while reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint.
Speaking to his process, Ramankutty said that “science is always iterative.”
“You work on what is the weakest link at that point. Ten years or twenty years ago, the weakest link was the dataset itself, so I started building global datasets of agricultural land use. While doing that, I became interested in this whole problem of food. The reason that we’re using all this land is for agriculture but that fact has all these huge environmental implications. So [my work is in] trying to understand the trade-offs: on the one hand we need food, on the other hand we have these environmental problems.”
Assessing trade-offs is also a component of Ramankutty’s work in examining the balance between biodiversity conservation and food production. In other research, he and colleagues estimated the potential impacts of climate change and extreme weather events on crop production. Along with his students, Ramankutty explores the sustainability outcomes associated with organic agriculture, urban agriculture, and small farms.
For his aforementioned contributions, Ramankutty has been awarded the 20th Wihuri International Prize by The Wihuri Foundation for International Prizes, a private institution based in Helsinki, Finland. Founded in 1953 by Finnish industrialist and sea captain Antti Wihuri, its purpose is to promote and sustain the cultural and economic development of mankind by awarding international prizes. During the past decade, the prize was awarded, for example, to researchers in the fields of atmospheric science, peace research and bioeconomics.
“The prize is really a testimony to the importance of sustainable global food systems,” said Ramankutty. “It honors all the people who work in the same field.”
Watch a short video about Ramankutty's work from the Wihuri Foundation: