Researcher Profile: Navin Ramankutty
CSFS Associate, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Global Environmental Change and Food Security, UBC School of Public Policy and Global Affairs and the Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability
What does your current research focus on?
I study food security and sustainability on a global scale, with a few of my students focusing on regions like India, Latin America, and Canada. I am broadly interested in examining how agriculture influences global environmental change and how to modify our farming systems to make them more sustainable. More specifically, my research works with global data sets. We compile global data on agriculture and land use practices from around the world looking at factors like water and nutrient requirements, yields and amount of mechanization. We analyze these data to examine how agriculture is changing in different parts of the world and how different farming characteristics or management systems influence environmental outcomes.
What’s next for this research?
The big next steps are trying to understand what important questions need to be answered and what sources of data exist to answer these questions. In my research group, we’ve recently started working with microdata (finer scale census or survey data), which is more detailed than what we have previously worked with. We are now going through the data to find out what common variables have been collected to determine what questions have been asked of farmers worldwide. This new data will allow us to explore different questions than what we have been able to in the past.
In the literature, there is a hypothesis that having more diversified agriculture will make agriculture more climate resilient. With this data, we can now ask whether that is true or not. Previously, we have been looking into crop diversification on a large scale. This new microdata may enable us to look at these factors at the farm level.
How does your global research apply in a local or regional sense?
Our findings on a global scale have indicated that sustainability solutions are very context dependent as no average result applies to the world. We find that depending on the climate and the soils and the management practices we get different outcomes. The global scale work is useful to get a general picture and to define broadscale patterns. I would not say that my global scale work directly applies locally but it has relevance to the kinds of questions you might ask locally. You always need to be working at the scale where you want to answer questions. And in that context, I have started doing some more regional-to-local scale work in Canada, India, and Latin America, through the specific interests of my students.
Why does this work matter to you?
Food is a fundamental necessity of life. Generally, almost everyone recognizes that climate change is a major global environmental problem but few people realize that the food we eat is a major cause also. Making agriculture sustainable is vital, not just to solve the environmental problems, but also to continue providing the nutrition we need.
How important is the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems (CSFS) at UBC Farm to your work?
The CSFS builds bridges across the university. At UBC we tend to work within faculties and there is not a lot of cross-fertilization across faculties. For example, I study food systems but I do not have an appointment with the Faculty of Land and Food Systems. Being associated with the CSFS has allowed me to connect with colleagues in Land and Food Systems and across UBC.
What should people know about the UBC Farm that they probably don’t know?
They should know that it also acts as a hub for activity on campus. Earlier on, I was not aware of all of the activities that go on at the UBC Farm until I got more involved. There are educational activities and community outreach activities, like the farm camp that my kid went to this summer and the Saturday Farm Markets I go to with my family. I see a lot of value in the UBC Farm’s ability to reach out to the community.