How Small Fish Led To A World Food Prize

By Ben Hamill - May 14 2021
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How Small Fish Led To A World Food Prize

Having smaller fish to fry isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just ask nutrition expert Dr. Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted, who on Tuesday was named the recipient of the World Food Prize for her pioneering efforts in finding innovative new ways of raising fish for the incorporation of valuable nutrients into the diets of those living in developing countries. 

The World Food Prize was created in 1986 by Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug. The award pays special recognition to scientists, nutritionists, etc. who have improved the quality and also the availability of nutrition-rich food. The award is accompanied by US$250,000 in prize money.

The winner of this year’s prestigious award, Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted, 71, is originally from Trinidad in the Caribbean, before relocating to and becoming a citizen of Denmark. Thilsted was awarded the prize for her pioneering work with fish-based food systems focused on the improving of nutrition – and as such, the livelihoods and overall health of millions all over the developing world.

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Thilsted Saving Literally Millions

According to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who on Tuesday commented on Thilsted’s remarkable work in food development and security, the nutritionist expert’s greatest contribution is that of figuring out how nutrient-rich small fish can be raised locally and at an exceptionally low and affordable cost.

Thanks to her efforts, millions of low-income families all over the developing world – including in countries such as Cambodia, India, Nepal, Malawi, Zambia, Bangladesh, and Burma, to name but a few – are now benefiting from regularly eating small fish that are high in nutrients and life-giving food sources. They’re eating it in a variety of ways, both dried as well as fresh, and in everything from porridge to chutneys.

And by doing so, kids and breast-feeding mothers are absorbing those nutrients so crucial to protect the well-being and desperately needed nutritional health of children. This is what Thilsted has managed to achieve from her work and her efforts, said Blinken at this week’s announcement ceremony.

Journey That Brought Her Here

Thilsted has been for many years researching new ways in which to improve the lives of those suffering from or prone to malnutrition because of where they happen to be living in the world, given the limited resources at their disposal.

She began her research in the 1980s in Bangladesh, where she was told by local women that eating a variety of small, locally sourced fish species made them feel physically stronger and healthier. Then, upon her return to Denmark, she began researching more in-depth about everything that she had learnt about these fish-based diets and discovered for herself the importance of small fish species within the context of a food that is rich in micronutrients, all sorts of much-needed vitamins and minerals for healthy developing and living, and perhaps most significantly, their high levels of availability.

Today, her research helps to improve the lives and livelihoods of millions of people all over the developing world, with especially women now benefiting from not only the food itself, but also from the many economic opportunities created in the fish farming industry.

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