Professor Navin Ramankutty Awarded the Wihuri International Prize

Navin Ramankutty Award

UBC Professor Navin Ramankutty (School of Public Policy and Global Affairs; Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability) has been 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, Professor 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.

Over the last decade, Prof. Ramankutty’s research has focused on the challenge of feeding a growing global population in ways that are more environmentally sustainable and climate resilient. Prof. Ramankutty 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. On this work, Prof. Ramankutty stated: “I started building global datasets of agricultural land use. While doing that, I became interested in this whole problem of food itself. 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 tradeoffs: on the one hand we need food, on the other hand we have these environmental problems.” In other work, Prof. Ramankutty’s team has also researched tradeoffs between biodiversity conservation and food production, and estimated the potential impacts of climate change and extreme weather events on crop production. Along with his students, he has explored the sustainability outcomes associated with organic agriculture, urban agriculture, and small farms.

The Wihuri Foundation for International Prizes is a private foundation based in Helsinki, Finland. Founded in 1953 by Finnish industrialist and sea captain Antti Wihuri, its purpose is to promote and sustain cultural and economic development of mankind by awarding international prizes. During the past decade, the prize has been awarded, for example, to researchers in the fields of atmospheric science, peace research and bioeconomics. Professor Navin Ramankutty was awarded the 20th Wihuri International Prize.

As Professor Ramankutty stated: “The prize is really a testimony to the importance of sustainable global food systems. It honors all the people who work in the same field.”

The awarding process involved an eight-membered Board of Trustees selecting a topic – in 2020, they chose the global food system. It then appointed an expert committee that suggested three proposals for the recipient of the prize. The board made a unanimous decision of choosing Professor Ramankutty as the recipient of the 2020 Wihuri International Prize.

“The Wihuri International Prize was awarded to Navin Ramankutty as a recognition of his outstanding scientific track record. In addition, we at the Wihuri Foundation for International Prizes want to highlight the urgency for sustainable solutions to the ways we produce food for the growing number of people on our planet”, said Erkki KM Leppävuori, the chairman of the Board of trustees.

The Wihuri Sibelius Prize, awarded to composers, and the Wihuri International Prize, awarded to scientists, are both worth 150 000 euros (about 235 000 Canadian dollars) and are given out, as a rule, at least every three years. This year, the Wihuri Sibelius Prize was awarded to Finnish composer Jukka Tiensuu. The Prizes were awarded in a small awarding ceremony in Helsinki, Finland on October 9th, 2020. Professor Ramankutty attended the awarding dinner virtually and held a presentation on his research topics. In normal circumstances, the Foundation would have organized an awarding ceremony with over 800 guests. The Foundation and Navin Ramankutty are planning Ramankutty’s potential visit to Helsinki in 2021, bearing in mind the Covid-19 situation.