In the midst of an ongoing global health crisis which has killed more than a thousand people in Manitoba, and during the beginning of a major drought building across our province, we pause to salute this year’s winner of the World Food Prize.

The World Food Prize (WFP) recognizes scientists and others who have improved the quality and availability of food. It was created 35 years ago by Norman Borlaug, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and the father of the green revolution. The award is a quarter of a million dollars.

The winner of the WFP this year pioneered a fish-based food system to improve nutrition, health and the livelihoods for millions around the world. She is Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted who is a native of Trinidad. The food system she developed uses small fish that are only two or three inches long. But they are very nutrient-rich and are raised locally and inexpensively in small ponds.

The small fish are native to Southeast Asia and have been used by locals for decades. But recently people were calling for the small fish to be cleaned out of the ponds and replaced by larger fish which could be raised and sold for food.

But while working on aquaculture projects, the researcher learned that local women eat a variety of the small fish which made them stronger. The scientist said she assessed the nutritional composition of the small fish species and found them to be very rich in a number of micronutrients, vitamins and minerals. Even better, she found that the nutrients, minerals and vitamins were all highly available and could be easily absorbed by the human body.

The work she has done has made a huge difference in the health of millions of people in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Zambia, Malawi, India and throughout Southeast Asia and Africa. It has made a significant difference in the diets of some of this world’s most vulnerable people, not to mention their incomes.

The work began in Bangladesh where there are now 4 million household ponds raising fish. The country’s aquaculture production has tripled in the past 20 years and is now the fifth largest in the world. It supports 18 million people. All the activity centred on small fish has done wonders for the economic activity of women. Women make up about two thirds of fish famers running small family-run operations in the country.

The World Food Prize is one of the most prestigious in the world. To be won by a modest scientist working in the field of feeding the most disadvantaged in the world is a time to be honoured.


Jim Rae is the former host of Information Radio on CBC Radio.

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