The World Food Prize Foundation has awarded the World Food Prize 2021 to Dr Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted, global lead for Nutrition and Public Health of WorldFish.
She won the most prestigious prize, which is also known as the "Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture". This honour is the recognition of Dr Shakuntala’s long journey towards making a significant contribution to the transformation of aquatic food systems.
She is credited with developing the pond polyculture system in a sustainable way of farming small fish and large carps together in homestead ponds, water bodies, and rice fields.
As a human nutritionist, she emphasised that small fishes, not only provide protein and amino acids, they are a rich source of vitamin A, vitamin 12, and essential micronutrients, like iron, zinc, and calcium.
Her last 20 years of consistent untiring research and development efforts have brought changes in peoples’ mindset on aquatic farming practices in Bangladesh. The technologies developed in Bangladesh has later been, disseminated to Cambodia, India, Nepal, and Myanmar in Asia, and Zambia and Malawi in Africa.
Her research journey started in mid-1996. Dr Shakuntala approached Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU) Mymensingh to develop collaboration with colleagues on researching nutrient-rich SIS, especially Mola-Carp polyculture at the BAU Fisheries Field Laboratory.
Several research scientists from Department of Fisheries (DoF) and BFRI after having PhDs and masters on mola-carps polyculture became implementers of new concepts.
University departments changed courses and curriculum for the inclusion of new technologies and concepts in their teachings. The technology thus spread all over the country, and the use of fish poison to kill the small fish in ponds was officially stopped. Interestingly, mola is now available in all open markets and supermarkets.
The dissemination Mola-Carp in hundreds and thousands of ponds are scaling rapidly in Bangladesh with support from several projects of WorldFish Bangladesh
A unique product fish chutney (pickles) has been prepared and fed to the mother and children and found to improve the nutritional conditions of both. Adding the fish powder or grounded fish in the khichuri (mixed rice, veg, and lentils) is another nutritious food offered to the poor people in the fishing communities.
WorldFish Bangladesh through its USAID’s ECOFISH II is activity promoting dry fish and fish powder from the marine pelagic small fish (marine mola, sardine, etc.) through participation of coastal fishers’ women.
The writer is the team leader of the USAID-funded ECOFISH II Activity of WorldFish Bangladesh. He can be reached at [email protected]r.org