Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted — who has pioneered research in improving the nutritional profile of aquatic food products — has been honored as the newest recipient of the World Food Prize.

In an announcement from the World Food Prize Foundation, Thilsted was hailed for her “groundbreaking research, critical insights and landmark innovations in developing holistic, nutrition-sensitive approaches to aquaculture and food systems.” 

“Aside from personal joy and gratitude, as a scientist, I feel this award is an important recognition of the essential but often overlooked role of fish and aquatic food systems in agricultural research for development,” Thilsted — a citizen of Denmark and native of Trinidad and Tobago — said. “Fish and aquatic foods offer life-changing opportunities for millions of vulnerable women, children, and men to be healthy and well-nourished." 

Thilsted is currently the global lead for nutrition and public health at WorldFish, a research center headquartered in Malaysia. There, she conducts research aimed at helping reshape food systems and achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which include eliminating hunger by 2030.

Much of her research has involved improving the production and nutritional value of small fish. She theorized the value these fish could provide as sources of essential micronutrients and fatty acids, eventually developing ready-to-use, fish-based foods like powders to reduce fish waste and increase entrepreneur incomes.

In a ceremony announcing Thilsted’s award — the 51st such prize — Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack called her a “worthy recipient.”

“As our global population grows, we’ll need diverse sources of low-emission, high-nutrition foods like aquaculture,” he said. “It’s going to be crucial in feeding the world while reducing our impact on the climate.”

Thilsted, who also is a vice-chair of an action track on advancing equitable livelihoods for the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit, said she hopes future research will focus not just on the quantity of food, but also its quality.

“Shifting the narrative from ‘feeding’ to ‘nourishing’ has been and continues to be a major challenge,” she said. “We must expand our focus beyond producing larger quantities of staple food crops. We must prioritize the diversity of other foods; foods that are nutritious, safe, and affordable for all.”

Thilsted will receive a $250,000 award and be recognized at a ceremony later this year.

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