Gulf Today

World Food Prize goes to nutrition expert for fish research


DES MOINES: A nutrition expert who pioneered innovative ways of raising fish rich in micronutri­ents and faty acids and incorporat­ing them into diets in developing countries was named the recipient of the World Food Prize on Tuesday.

Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted, 71, who grew up on Caribbean island of Trinidad and later became a citizen of Denmark, was awarded the prize in recognitio­n of her achievemen­ts in pioneering fish-based food systems to improve nutrition, health and livelihood­s for millions around the world.

“Dr Thilsted figured out how these nutrient-rich small fish can be raised locally and inexpensiv­ely,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in remarks recorded and delivered at the announceme­nt ceremony. “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 breasfeedi­ng mothers key nutrients that will protect children for a lifetime. That is all thanks to her.”

US Secretary of Agricultur­e Tom Vilsack and UN Nutrition Chair Naoko Yamamoto also delivered remarks. World Food Prize Foundation President Barbara Stinson announced Thilsted as the winner.

The World Food Prize was created by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Norman Borlaug in 1986 to recognise scientists and others who have improved the quality and availabili­ty of food. The foundation that awards the $250,000 prize is based in Des Moines, Iowa.

Thilsted began research in Bangladesh in the 1980s while working to improve the lives of malnourish­ed people. Ater talking to local women who told her that eating a variety of local small fish species made them stronger, she began researchin­g their diet. Returning to Copenhagen, she studied the nutritiona­l value of small fish species in Bangladesh and later Cambodia.

“I was able to assess the nutritiona­l compositio­n of these small fish species and realised that they were extremely rich in multiple micronutri­ents, vitamins and minerals, and most importantl­y that the forms in which they were found were highly available and could be absorbed by the human body,” she told The Associated Press via video from Penang, Malaysia, ahead of the ceremony.

That knowledge led her back to Bangladesh, where she studied how farmers raised fish, with the goal of helping them to improve their efficiency and their product’s nutritiona­l value. At the time, aquacultur­e was just taking off in the country, which now has 4 million household ponds raising fish. The common practice then was to clean the ponds of all native small species and stock them with carp species used as the primary fish for food and sold at markets.

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