Navin Ramankutty

Prospective Graduate Students / Postdocs

This faculty member is currently not actively recruiting graduate students or Postdoctoral Fellows, but might consider co-supervision together with another faculty member.


Research Interests

Climate Changes and Impacts
Climate impacts
Environment and Society
Global food security
Land use change
Sustainable agriculture

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

Research Options

I am available and interested in collaborations (e.g. clusters, grants).
I am interested in and conduct interdisciplinary research.

Research Methodology

Geospatial analysis
Earth observations
Global data development

Great Supervisor Week Mentions

Each year graduate students are encouraged to give kudos to their supervisors through social media and our website as part of #GreatSupervisorWeek. Below are students who mentioned this supervisor since the initiative was started in 2017.


Supervisor appreciation week @UBC! Shoutout to @NRamankutty and @mKandlikar. Extremely proud and blessed to have not one, but TWO super supervisors. Awe-inspiringly smart giants whose shoulders I stand on. @ubcires @ubcSPPGA #GreatSupervisor


I'm one lucky #phd student to have TWO amazing supervisors who are equally kind, fiercely intelligent AND fun. @NRamankutty @HWittmanUBC my only complaint is how much you debate when we meet (just kidding, it’s great) #DoubleTrouble #greatsupervisor @IRES_UBC @ubcfarm @LiuInstituteUBC


Couldn't have said it better. @NRamankutty has been the best mentor I could ever have wished for (in addition to simply being one of the best human beings I have ever met). #GreatSupervisor #SupervisorAppreciationWeek


I could not ask for a better supervisor than @NRamankutty at @IRES_UBC. Extremely approachable and knowledgeable. Encourages us to venture out of our comfort zones. Most importantly, one of the nicest and kindest people I know. #GreatSupervisor #UBC #SupervisorAppreciationWeek


A little late on this, but I have to express my gratitude to Dr. Navin Ramankutty. He is a leader in thoughtful and aggressive inquisitiveness, as well as consideration and mindfulness of others. These values aren't easily communicable, but Navin seamlessly integrates them into his students' learning through their obvious and deliberate application to both his personal and professional endeavors.

Kalifi (2017)


My supervisor is great because he: (1) Cares about the wellbeing of his students, (2) always keeps a good sense of humor, (3) has high expectations of his students, (4) helps achieve those expectations by providing creative, timely and thoughtful feedback, (5) manages to be on top of every academic and teaching responsibility while at the same time taking care of a happy family, and (6) most importantly, he leads by example. Professor Ramankutty is a #GreatSupervisor.

Juan Diego Martinez (2017)


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Inequality in global access to food and its implications for climate change and Sustainable Development Goals (2023)

Improving global food security while also reducing the environmental footprint of the food system is a major challenge. The responsibility for solving this is, however, not equal - there is large inequality in food consumption between the world's poorest and richest. The objective of this thesis is to estimate inequality in access to food between and within countries, and its implications for climate change and sustainable development goals.In Chapter 2, I developed a theoretically-grounded statistical model to estimate the relationship between average per capita income and food access. I then used this model to estimate within-country food access for income deciles in 135 countries. I found that, from 1961 to 2013, between-country inequality in food access declined by 48%, while within-country inequality increased by 42%. In Chapter 3, I built on these results to estimate inequality in GHG emissions from food consumption (production plus net imports). I then assessed the reductions required from the top emitters to achieve global climate targets. I found that, in 2012, between 40-45% of the world's population ate diets above a target per capita cap. In Chapter 4, I explored how future scenarios of income growth versus redistribution would meet sustainable development goals of poverty, hunger, inequality and climate. I found that both an exclusive income growth scenario and an exclusive income redistribution scenario are capable of drastically reducing hunger and extreme poverty compared to the control scenario, but both fail to eradicate them entirely by 2030. A combined income growth and redistribution scenario achieves three goals but is accompanied by a 53% increase in food consumption GHG emissions. Finally, I found that it is possible to use income growth targeting the poorest and the hungry to alleviate extreme poverty and hunger with only a small increase in GHG emissions and at a low cost.In conclusion, my research shows that there is a great disparity in access to food between and within countries. The pathways to close the gap in a timely manner must be ambitious and innovative because historic progress does not set a sufficient precedent.

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Indian agriculture in a changing climate: a statistical analysis (2022)

Predicting crop yield response to climate change is a topic of active research. A popular method involves building statistical models using historical climate and agricultural data, and then applying them on future climate projections for predicting crop yields. Using India as a case study, this dissertation examines these statistical models along two dimensions: the type of climate variables included, and the statistical techniques used. We also employ these models for predicting climate change impact on Indian crop yields till 2100.First, we examine the role of seasonal (e.g. total seasonal precipitation) versus subseasonal (e.g. precipitation over each crop growing stage) climate variables in explaining crop yields. We observe that even though adding extra climate variables does not always improve overall model accuracy, the proportion of yield variability explained by climate (versus non-climatic variables like geography and time) can increase significantly. This underscores the importance of combining physiological and statistical knowledge while choosing climate variables for statistical crop models. Second, we compare the well-known statistical method of OLS linear regression (LR) to a popular machine learning method called boosted regression trees (BRTs). While LR models were simpler to interpret, BRTs could uncover unexpected non-linear relationships and exhibited better yield prediction accuracy. Compared to LR, BRTs sometimes showed lower sensitivity to temperature variation. Higher flexibility of BRTs allowed them to identify obscure interactions between variables that could be missed by LR.We then use different climate variables and statistical techniques for building statistical models to predict climate change impact on India’s future crop yields. We found that nationally-averaged rice, wheat, and pearl millet yields could reduce by up to 3.4, 4.3, and 5.5 percent (respectively) by 2050 under the intermediate emissions scenario. Some parts of India may benefit from climate change, while other regions could face yield losses of up to 20 percent. Depending on the climate variables or statistical technique employed, we observe high variability in yield change predictions. We therefore suggest combining multiple models for estimating climate change impact on crop yields.

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Just in principle? : assessing the contributions of organic farming to socio-ecological sustainability in Canadian agriculture (2022)

Agriculture is at the centre of society’s most pressing sustainability challenges, including food insecurity, climate change, ecological degradation, and social inequity. Organic agriculture, when practiced according to an ethic grounded in ecology, health, fairness, and care, has been proposed as a remedy to these challenges. Building on a movement for an alternative to socially and ecologically exploitative food production, organic agriculture is now a multi-billion-dollar industry with established legal and regulatory frameworks around the world. While this growth could be seen as a success, empirical research has called into question the extent to which organic agriculture and market-oriented third-party certifications can foster sustainability transitions and has found that performance is often context dependent (e.g. depending on which practices are adopted). There remain significant gaps in knowledge about how organic agriculture is practiced in jurisdictions around the world relative to the sustainability-related principles on which it was founded, especially the principle of fairness. To address these gaps, I developed a mixed-method assessment grounded in a critical realist methodological approach to evaluate the contributions of organic agriculture to socio-ecological sustainability in Canada. I utilized both qualitative and quantitative methods—drawing from interviews with farmers, inspectors and organic policymakers, analysis of census data for farms across Canada, surveys of vegetable farmers in British Columbia and organic policy documents—to investigate how organic agriculture is shaped and enacted by organic community members at multiple scales. My analysis of organic standards in North America, along with census and survey data in Canada, provide strong evidence for higher levels of adoption of ecologically sustainable management in organic agriculture relative to all other farms. Yet, despite explicit attention to the principle of fairness in organic standards and among organic community actors, I found little evidence that organic agriculture in Canada is correlated with improved working conditions for farmworkers in practice. Across Mexico, the US and Canada, no organic standards contain any requirements related to social sustainability. At the same time, standards governance and community-led efforts toward integrating the principle of fairness into certification show potential to advance a more just and sustainable agriculture.

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The role of small-scale farms in the global food system (2019)

Farms are becoming larger in high-income countries and smaller and more fragmented in low-income countries. This farm size transition has motivated recent international policy calls to combat inequities in the global food system and to promote more environmentally friendly production practices. This dissertation seeks to understand the impact of this transition on global food production, on the environment, and on small-scale farmers’ livelihoods. Each chapter aims to examine the underlying assumptions of these policy calls by testing the relationship between small-scale farms and key socio-ecological outcomes. Through creating a harmonized dataset across 55 countries, Chapter 2 estimates that 30-34% of the world’s food is produced by farms under 2 hectares in size and smaller farms producer a greater diversity of crop species than larger farms. Chapter 3’s meta-analysis synthesizes the past 50 years of empirical evidence on the relationships between farm size and several socio-ecological outcomes of farming systems (i.e., yield, biodiversity, resource-use efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions, and profitability). We found that smaller farms have higher yields and promote more non-crop biodiversity (across species at the farm and landscape scales) than larger farms. We found no relationship between farm size and resource-use efficiency, but smaller farms had a non-significant trend to lower greenhouse gas emissions per crop output than larger farms. Chapter 4 builds on this meta-analysis to investigate the relationship between farm size, productivity, and income using harmonized national sample surveys from 34 countries across the Global South. Our results highlight that while smaller farms are more productive than larger farms, they have lower per capita incomes. Critically, we also found that the current internationally agreed upon target of doubling small-scale farmer incomes is not aggressive enough to transition them out of poverty. Chapter 5 outlines pathways for the international community to identify and monitor small-scale food producers, which is a central hurdle to ensure governments keep their agreed upon commitments to support small-scale farmers. This dissertation makes several empirical contributions to the literature on the contribution of small farms to the global food system, and can help inform policy initiatives aimed to support small-scale farmers.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

A descriptive analysis of Mexico's crop species diversity (2022)

Mexico is one of the main centres of origin of agriculture and domestication of a diversity of plant species that are fundamental for food security. Given the importance of conserving traditional crops, research in the country has mainly focused on crop diversity at the genetic level of these few crops. However, thanks to the country's geographic location, the biocultural heterogeneity of the landscape, and openness to international markets, today, Mexico grows more than 200 food crop species. This study used statistical analysis of Mexican agricultural census data to evaluate changes in Crop Species Diversity (CSD) from 1980 to 2016 for five agroecological regions of Mexico. CSD temporal trends are described through simple linear models, segmented regressions, and a Non-metric Multidimensional Scaling (NMDS) technique. Overall, we found that while diversity has been increasing in 4 out of 5 regions, regions are becoming more similar. This homogenization of the Mexican agricultural sector could therefore have major social, economic and environmental implications.

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Evaluating uncertainty in tropical forest loss between 1990 and 2010: an inter-comparison of different data sets (2018)

Tropical forests are a lynchpin for environmental and social services, but are undergoing rapid deforestation. Despite the urgency of this issue, and despite rapid technological advances in monitoring tropical deforestation, and the existence of multiple studies of tropical forest loss over the last two decades, there is little certainty on the rates of tropical forest loss. We intercompared available pan-tropical forest change studies over the 1990-2010 period to examine: 1) differences in tropical forest loss during the 1990s, 2) differences in tropical forest loss in the 2000s, 3) differences in the rate of change of tropical forest loss from the 1990s to the 2000s, and 4) how these pan-tropical estimates compare to independent country/regional-level estimates of tropical forest loss. On balance, we conclude that tropical forest loss is decelerating between those decades. We also find that country reports from the Forest Resources Assessment of the Food and Agriculture Organization appear to be the least reliable; that satellite-based data appear the most reliable despite some persistent differences; and that there is higher agreement between forest loss estimates in Latin America. Our study improves current understanding of tropical forest loss in order to better inform policies to reduce deforestation, and in order to improve future tropical forest change analyses.

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Current Students & Alumni

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