- Aquatic foods are making headlines at World Food Prize events happening physically in Des Moines, Iowa as well as virtually.
- World Food Prize Laureate Shakuntala Thilsted joined various panels to discuss the role of aquatic foods in achieving an equitable, sustainable and nutritious food systems transformation.
- Panelists shared their delight at the growing attention aquatic foods are receiving and the unique position of aquatic foods in providing nutritious diets, income gains and livelihood opportunities for women and youth.
WorldFish’s Global Lead for Nutrition and Public Health Shakuntala Thilsted landed in Des Moines, Iowa for a week of engagements that put aquatic foods at the center of the food systems research agenda. The events will culminate in Thilsted receiving the World Food Prize at the Laureate Award Ceremony at the Iowa State Capitol Building.
Thilsted was awarded this year’s World Food Prize for her influential work on nutrition, fish, and aquatic food systems. Most notably, her research examined the micronutrient content of affordable and locally available small fish species in Bangladesh and Cambodia, identifying their critical role in improving the nutrition and health of pregnant and lactating mothers and young children in the first 1000 days of life.
Often referred to as the ‘Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture’, the World Food Prize is the most prominent global award recognizing exceptional individuals who have worked to enhance human development by improving the quality, quantity and availability of food for all.
Throughout the week-long Borlaug Dialogue, Thilsted will join various panels to discuss the role of aquatic foods in achieving an equitable, sustainable and nutritious food systems transformation.
The Borlaug Dialogue is an annual symposium that brings together international experts, policy leaders, business executives and farmers to address cutting-edge issues in global food security and nutrition.
Touring the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates
World Food Prize Foundation President Barbara Stinson played host to Rattan Lal and Thilsted, the World Food Prize Laureates for 2020 and 2021, respectively by taking both for a tour of the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates.
Thilsted’s portrait will be the latest to be featured among the distinguished ranks of past laureates in the Ruan Laureate Room. She is the first woman of Asian heritage to receive the World Food Prize and the second WorldFish scientist after Modadugu Gupta who was awarded in 2005 and the prime architect of the ‘blue revolution’ which saw small-scale fish farming improve the livelihoods of many of Asia’s most vulnerable.
Making a splash across World Food Prize events
At the Iowa State University (ISU) Norman Borlaug Lecture hosted by ISU President Wendy Wintersteen, Thilsted broke down the science behind the importance of aquatic foods as superfoods, rich in bioavailable micronutrients, essential fatty acids and protein, that support growth and development.
She also shared how her grandmother, who she stayed and grew up with, taught her the value of local foods.
“My grandmother would tell us about the importance of having nutritious foods for brain and for strength. That’s something which I’ve carried with me all my life and also in my career,” Thilsted told the audience of college students and faculty.
WorldFish hosted a Borlaug Dialogue side event that brought together government representatives and development funders to explore how anchoring aquatic foods in the global food systems research, investment and policy agendas can lead to COVID-19 recovery and accelerate progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals.
At the event, WorldFish’s Director General Gareth Johnstone emphasized how a sustainable food systems transformation will not be possible without due attention and investment given to aquatic food systems alongside terrestrial systems.
Laura Birx, the deputy director for strategy, planning and management, agricultural development at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation highlighted the unique position of aquatic foods in meeting the foundation’s development goals.
“Aquatic foods represent a very rare win-win-win intervention that meet all three of our goals – a very nutritious commodity that can be consumed and grown, one that has a lot of potential for income gains and certainly one that women are at the center of the supply chain,” said Birx.
Anu Garg, the principal secretary of the Department of Women and Child Development in Odisha, India, provided an example of benefits of aquatic foods in action describing a successful pilot study where locally-sourced fish and the introduction of fish-based products in school feeding programs is revolutionizing the fight against malnutrition while boosting the livelihoods of women.
WorldFish is a frequent collaborator with Feed the Future, the US Government's global hunger and food security initiative. At the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish side event, US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Senior Adviser for Aquaculture and Fisheries Shivaun Leonard shared her delight for the growing attention aquatic foods are receiving in the global food systems transformation agenda.
“Aquatic foods offer an affordable, nutritious and accessible sustainably produced source of protein for billions of people. I’m delighted to see aquatic foods rightly gaining prominence with the recognition of Shakuntala Thilsted for the World Food Prize for her work in the micronutrient potential of small fish,” said Leonard.
Funded by USAID, the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish aims to alleviate poverty, improve nutrition and food security, and uplift livelihoods in developing countries by supporting the sustainable development of aquatic food systems.
At the conclusion of the event, Thilsted reminded the audience of the need to acknowledge the diversity of aquatic foods -- not just fish -- as superfoods with multiple benefits across all social and environmental aspects of sustainability.
“As we move forward, we must remember diversity underpins the transitions we desire in food, land and water systems, and work to harness the diversity of aquatic food systems. A holistic food systems transformation is only possible with the inclusion of aquatic foods,” she emphasized.
While speaking at the 2021 Iowa India Summit, organized by the Indo-American Association of Iowa, Thilsted shared that one of the biggest challenges she had to face in ensuring proper nutrition is accessible is the lack of disaggregated data available for food systems—as there is no one size fits all solution across different demographics.
“Sex, age and gender are context specific, and we need to take into a consideration a much wider expanse of how we see food systems,” she elaborated.
Thilsted further explained how she overcame that hurdle by using a nutrition-sensitive approach to food systems, and in doing so, all actors in the food system are taken into consideration, guaranteeing a right to food without leaving anyone behind.
The event was part of a collaboration to improve food and nutrition security from India to the US. WorldFish has many fruitful projects in India with the latest being the training of women self-help groups to utilize community tanks for aquatic foods farming and the inclusion of aquatic foods in the diets of children at government childcare centers to combat malnutrition.