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Vincent Ricciardi on Challenging Assumptions

Episode summary

In our discussion, data scientist Vincent "Vinny" Ricciardi challenges the assumptions and evidence that are built into food systems debates. We talk about a few of the recent papers that Vinny co-authored, including one that asks how much of the world’s food supply is produced by smallholder farmers, a 50-year meta-analysis that compares how do small and large farms size up in terms of yields and biodiversity impact, and whether smallholders actually have access to broadband to become part of a data driven farming future.

[ Transcript available ]


About Vincent Ricciardi

Vincent “Vinny” Ricciardi is a senior data scientist at Premise Data. Currently, he focuses on leveraging crowdsourced data from over 100 countries and 2.6 million contributors to inform public policy.

Equipped with a PhD in Resource Management & Environmental Studies from the University of British Columbia, Vinny has over 10 years of applied research experience. Since his start as a field scientist collecting biodiversity data, he has compiled and managed global-scale databases, led analyses for a wide range of stakeholders, and published in high-impact academic journals.


Background reading and resources

Vincent Ricciardi’s work


Higher yields and more biodiversity on smaller farms (Vincent Ricciard et al., 2021)

Impact of transnational land acquisitions on local food security and dietary diversity (Marc Müller et al., 2021)

How much of the world's food do smallholders produce? (Vincent Ricciardi et al., 2018)

The global divide in data-driven farming (Zia Mehrabi et al., 2020)


Arc Story Map: A quick look across different country borders to how policy affects farm size (Vincent Ricciardi, 2021)

Blog post: How much of the world do small farms produce? (Vincent Ricciardi, 2018)

Spreadsheet tracking the 70% smallholder statistic (Started by Vincent Ricciardi)


Vincent Riccardi’s UBC colleagues at the Land Use and Global Environment lab

A blog post by Navin Ramankutty (2021) that discusses the origin of the '70% of the world's food is produced by smallholders' statistic, which belongs to a bigger question: Are small farms better?

Vincent’s colleagues paper looking at the assumptions behind organic agriculture: Comparing the yields of organic and conventional agriculture (Verena Seufert et al., 2012)

A synthesis paper on assumptions behind organic, small farms, and urban ag: Tradeoffs in the performance of alternative farming systems (Navin Ramankutty, Vincent Ricciardi, and Verenea Seufert, 2019)

A blog series on challenging assumptions in the food system from Vincent’s former UBC lab

The research gate discussion on small farms tracking the origins of the 70% worlds food statistic


Other studies supporting that smallholder’s contribution to global food supply is under 70%

Subnational distribution of average farm size and smallholder contributions to global food production (Samberg et al., 2016)

Farming and the geography of nutrient production for human use: a transdisciplinary analysis (Herrero et al, 2017)

Which farms feed the world and has farmland become more concentrated? (Lowder, Sanchez and Bertini, 2021)

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Social science; participatory research; environmental science; farming systems
04-06-2021 12:39
You ask in the podcast "please get in touch or post in the comments, if you’re a social scientist, ecologist or economist and have ideas around this research question!". The research Vinny discussed was very interesting and good example of how open data can be used to explore important questions. As a social and environmental scientist, I am sending out a plea that, in any research on farming systems, UBC (and everyone else) would make a point of including people with experience of social research and community empowerment in projects. These areas are very often excluded from research or stuck on late in the proposal process with very little funding. Data and technology will not solve humanities problems unless they are inextricably linked and informed by input from the people affected - from individuals to groups to communities to nations and policy makers. The Stockholm Environment Institute has centres around the world including East Asia, South America and Africa that do excellent work with community partners on a huge range of topics around the SDGs. I'm sure they would be delighted to be a partner in work with UBC and others on sustainable farming!

They also create a lot of modelling tools, all open source, including this one for visualising the results of systematic reviews.

And TRASE which is a very powerful tool for creating greater transparency in food supply chains and financing:

Here are a couple links to examples that are creating real change in the lives of people through stakeholder and science partnerships:

Matthew Kessler
TABLE staff
15-06-2021 17:28
Thanks for the comment, jeanmck! Our next episode will actually focus on smallholders in sub Saharan Africa, their relation to different technologies such as GM and the different discourses about them (both tech and smallholders). Our guest also stresses the importance of effective communication and interdisciplinary approaches to research.

We appreciate your feedback here as part of the goal of the podcast is to understand the strengths and limitations of different perspectives on food systems topics.

You're very welcome to reply here, or e-mail me @ if you have any suggestions for improving our work in the future!