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The World Food Prize goes to the nutrition expert for research on fish


DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) A nutrition expert who launched innovative ways of growing fish rich in trace elements and fatty acids and including them in diets in developing countries was named the recipient of the World Food Award on Tuesday.

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

Dr. Thilsted understood how these nutrient-rich small fish can be grown locally and at a low price, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in remarks recorded and delivered at the announcement ceremony. Now, millions of low-income families in many countries, including Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Nepal, Burma, Zambia, Malawi, are regularly eating small, dry and fresh fish, in all, from chutneys to porridge, giving babies and breastfeeding mothers the key nutrients that will protect babies for a lifetime. That’s all thanks to her.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and UN Food Chairman Naoko Yamamoto also made 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 recognize scientists and others who have improved the quality and availability of food. The $ 250,000 foundation is located in Des Moines, Iowa.

Thilsted began research in Bangladesh in the 1980s while working to improve the lives of malnourished people. After 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 realized that they were extremely rich in numerous micronutrients, vitamins and minerals, and most importantly that the forms in which they were found were highly available and could to be absorbed by the human body, she told the Associated Press via video from Penang, Malaysia, before the ceremony.

This knowledge took her back to Bangladesh, where she studied how farmers raised fish, with the aim of helping them improve their efficiency and the nutritional value of their product. At the time, aquaculture was just being set up in the country, which now has 4 million household ponds that raise fish. The common practice then was to clean the ponds of all the small native species and supply them with carp species used as the main fish for food and sold in the markets.

Thilsted said that after many years of research, she and others showed that farmers could raise large fish along with small fish rich in trace elements, increasing production and increasing the nutritional quality of adult fish.

This was the system we used for the aquaculture approach, which I call pond multiculturalism, she said.

Her research conducted with the help of international organizations including UNICEF, the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Bank, improved the scientific understanding of the importance of fish in diets. The changes she helped brought about a significant change in the diets and incomes of some of the most vulnerable people in the world.

Aquaculture production in Bangladesh has tripled since 2000 and is now the fifth largest in the world, supporting 18 million people. Increased production has improved the economic opportunities of women in particular, as they make up about 60% of fish farmers operating in small family operations in the country.

For 10 years, Thilsted has worked with Malaysia WorldFish, an international research organization focusing on aquatic foods in developing countries in Africa, Asia and the Pacific region. The organization provided opportunities to relocate its fish-based dietary approaches to other countries with funding from development groups including CGIAR, an international partnership of organizations focused on food safety. It now serves as the global bullet for food and public health at WorldFish. She also holds leadership roles at the United Nations Food Systems Summit 2021 and the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Safety and Nutrition, which advises the World Food Safety Committee, the UN’s leading group on food safety and nutrition. food.

Thilstead also found ways to include fish in the diets of people who needed extra food. She advocated the widespread use of a persistent dry fish powder on the shelf with concentrated nutrients to be used with other spices such as spices to add to other foods.

Thilsted said he was surprised when he was awarded the World Food Prize as many previous winners have focused on staple products like rice, wheat and corn. She hopes the honor will enable her to draw attention to the importance of diversity in food resources, including fish and other aquatic foods.

I can see that price gives you a platform, and in my case, I would like to use that platform to move further with the work I am doing and to move the recognition of fish and aquatic foods as superfoods and important in diets to distribute nutrients to poor and vulnerable people, of course in cultures where it makes sense to do so, said Thilsted, who said she did not know how she would spend the prize money.

She said she also hopes her award will inspire women to pursue her field of study.

I also hope that with this platform and this award I have received it can especially inspire young women from developing countries to study science and get a career in food and nutrition because I think it is extremely rewarding and rewarding for many, she said.

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