May 11, 2021
Source: World Food Prize news release
Dr. Thilsted was the first to establish that many small fish species commonly eaten across Southeast Asia are an important source of essential micronutrients and fatty acids and improve the absorption of nutrients in plant-based foods, reshaping scientific understanding of the benefits of fish in diets. This breakthrough has helped prioritize increases in fish consumption and production, transforming the diets and incomes of some of the world's most vulnerable people.
The 2021 Laureate Announcement featured pre-recorded remarks from the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas J. Vilsack and UN Nutrition Chair Naoko Yamamoto, with World Food Prize Foundation President Barbara Stinson announcing the name of the Laureate.
"Dr. Thilsted figured out how these nutrient-rich small fish can be raised locally and inexpensively," said Secretary Blinken. "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 breastfeeding mothers key nutrients that will protect children for a lifetime. That is all thanks to her."
Much of Dr. Thilsted's success in expanding small-scale aquaculture is due to the development of pond polyculture systems, in which small and large fish species are farmed together in water bodies and rice field ponds. Dr. Thilsted led research revealing that raising different fish varieties together increases total production and the nutritional value of the production.
"I am truly honored to receive the 2021 World Food Prize, and I am deeply humbled to be placed in such distinguished ranks as those of past Laureates," Dr. Thilsted said. "This award is an important recognition of the essential but often overlooked role of fish and aquatic food systems in agricultural research for development. Fish and aquatic foods offer life-changing opportunities for millions of vulnerable women, children and men to be healthy and well-nourished."
In Bangladesh, where her research on fish began with long-term support from Danish International Development Assistance (DANIDA), Dr. Thilsted's fish-based approach is now recognized as more cost-effective at supplying nutrients than vegetable gardening, prompting the government to promote pond polyculture as a means of tackling malnutrition.
This approach has also helped Bangladesh become the fifth largest aquaculture producer in the world, supporting 18 million people and increasing productivity threefold since 2000. Women in particular have also benefited from the greater economic opportunities through increased fish production, as women account for 60 percent of Bangladesh's smallholder fish farmers.
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