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Another day, another global award for WorldFish’s Thilsted

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
15 September 2021, at 5:18pm

WorldFish nutrition expert Dr Shakuntala Thilsted has won the 2021 Arrell Global Food Innovation Award for her pioneering nutrition-sensitive approaches to fisheries and aquaculture systems that ​​honour local, culturally appropriate solutions to improve the nutrition, health and development of children and mothers across Asia, Africa and the Pacific.

Dr Shakuntala Thilsted
Dr Shakuntala Thilsted

Dr Thilsted, who was also awarded the 2021 World Food Prize, was honoured through Canada’s University of Guelph Arrell Food Institute Award program. The award began in 2018 and is judged by an international adjudication committee, recognising those who make exceptional research innovation to create more equitable, suitable, efficient, and nutritious food systems. Two prizes are awarded annually in two categories: research innovation and community engagement innovation.

“I am honored to receive the 2021 Arrell Food Innovation Award. This is an important recognition of the essential but often overlooked role of fish and aquatic food systems in agricultural research for development,” said Dr Thilsted.

“As a researcher, I have developed and implemented local, culturally appropriate food-based solutions that improve nutrition and health for millions of malnourished children and their mothers in countries across Asia and Africa, where fish and other aquatic foods are integral to diets and culture. This award acknowledges the unmatched potential of diverse aquatic foods in food system research, policies, and interventions, at national, regional and global levels.”

The award celebrates Thilsted as the first to identify the nutritional value of small fish species such as Mola and Trey Changwa Plieng, native to Bangladesh and Cambodia. This breakthrough showed that these commonly found and consumed small fish are rich in micronutrients and essential fatty acids that offer life-changing benefits for children's cognitive development in their first 1000 days of life and the nutrition and health of their mothers.

Armed with this knowledge, Thilsted worked with local communities, researchers, governments and the private sector to develop nutrition-sensitive approaches to aquatic food systems from production, supply and consumption, to improve the access and intake of nutritious small fish among vulnerable children and women. This included the development of a number of practical and affordable nutrition-sensitive innovations, like homestead pond polyculture, women-friendly harvesting techniques, nutritional education campaigns and the development of culturally appropriate fish-based products, like fish powder and fish chutney, suitable for consumption by young children and lactating women.

The pond polyculture system is a cost-effective and environmentally sustainable way of farming small and large fish species together in homestead ponds, water bodies, and rice fields. This innovation which helped to significantly increase the quality, diversity, and quantity of available, nutritious food in many local communities, prompted a large-scale shift towards aquaculture production in Bangladesh. In addition, it led the Government of Bangladesh to recognize the pond polyculture system as a critical innovation for meeting national targets to beat hunger, malnutrition, gender inequality, and poverty.

Her nutrition-sensitive approaches to food production from land and water have put nutrition and public health outcomes at the forefront, with due consideration for equal access to and affordability of diverse nutritious foods for all and environmental health and sustainability. For the last 10 years, Thilsted has been leading WorldFish’s efforts to adapt and scale these approaches across countries in Asia, Africa and the Pacific where aquatic foods are central to local diets, livelihoods and culture.

On the announcement Dr Evan Fraser, the director of Arrell Food Institute, said: “Holistic, locally-sourced innovation is at the heart of both the 2021 winners’ work and part of what has made their innovative approaches so successful. We are delighted to award these prizes to such important international actors, bringing a food-secure future for all closer to reality."