OMAHA (DTN) — The World Food Prize Foundation on Tuesday named a 2021 laureate, recognizing the work of Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted, an Asian scientist who has focused her career on improving the nutrient value of fish-based foods in Asia and Africa.
The World Food Prize Foundation, based in Des Moines, Iowa, annually names a laureate, which comes with a $250,000 prize. The foundation was created in honor of wheat breeder Norman Borlaug, an Iowa native who was awarded the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize.
Thilsted is the 51st World Food Prize laureate and the first Asian woman to be awarded the prize. In her work, Thilsted concentrated on small-fish species and the micronutrients they provide. She helped establish more sustainable aquaculture practices for small Asian farmers, including the expansion of women involved in fisheries. She also worked to increase fish consumption for mothers and young children and helped create more fish-based foods such as chutney and fish powder, the World Food Prize Foundation stated.
Tuesday’s announcement included messages from U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“Dr. Thilsted figured out how these nutrient-rich small fish can be raised locally and inexpensively,” Blinken said. “Now, millions of low-income families across many countries, including Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Nepal, Burma, Zambia, Malawi are eating small fish regularly, dried and fresh, in everything from chutneys to porridge, giving kids and breastfeeding mothers key nutrients that will protect children for a lifetime. That is all thanks to her.”
Vilsack added that, as the global population grows, people will need diverse sources of low-emission, high-nutrition foods like aquaculture. “It is going to be crucial in feeding the world while reducing our impact on the climate. Dr. Thilsted has been a leader in this effort and certainly a worthy recipient of the World Food Prize this year,” Vilsack said.
In her remarks, Thilsted said that rather than simply focusing on “feeding the world,” agricultural policy should pay more attention to increasing the nutritional quality of local and regional foods, such as local fish production. Agricultural production “should be about nourishing all people and all nations as well as sustaining the health of the planet,” Thilsted said. She added that, around the globe, aquaculture and other aquatic foods “are an integral part of food production, local diets and culture.”
Essential micronutrients such as Vitamin D, zinc and calcium are especially critical for the cognitive development of children in their first 1,000 days of life, Thilsted said.
“Therefore, fish and other aquatic foods must be given more prominence alongside staple food crops, food and livestock products,” she said.
Thilsted comes from Trinidad and did her early work there before moving to Denmark. In the 1980s, she began to work in Bangladesh, then moved on to also work in Egypt, Kenya and Nepal. In 2010, she began working as a senior nutrition scientist for WorldFish and has worked in Bangladesh, Cambodia and Malaysia.
The World Food Prize Foundation annually holds a symposium in October to highlight both the work of the laureate and other researchers working on global nutrition challenges.
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