Nutrition scientist Dr. Shakuntala Thilsted awarded the 2021 Arrell Global Food Innovation Award Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted, Global Lead for Nutrition and Public Health at WorldFish, was named the recipient of the 2021 Arrell Global Food Innovation Award for her pioneering nutrition-sensitive approaches to aquatic food systems, in both fisheries and aquaculture, that ​​honor local, culturally appropriate solutions to improve the nutrition, health and development of children and mothers across Asia, Africa and the Pacific.

Thilsted was honored through Canada's University of Guelph Arrell Food Institute award program. The award began in 2018 and is judged by an international adjudication committee, recognizing those who make exceptional research innovation to create more equitable, suitable, efficient, and nutritious food systems. Two prizes are awarded annually in two categories: research innovation and community engagement innovation.

On receiving the 2021 Arrell Global Food Innovation Award for research innovation, Dr. Shakuntala Thilsted, WorldFish Global Lead for Nutrition and Public Health and Vice Chair of the UN Food Systems Summit 2021 Action Track 4: Advance Equitable Livelihoods, said:

" I am honored to receive the 2021 Arrell Food Innovation Award. This is an important recognition of the essential but often overlooked role of fish and aquatic food systems in agricultural research for development.

As a researcher, I have developed and implemented local, culturally appropriate food-based solutions that improve nutrition and health for millions of malnourished children and their mothers in countries across Asia and Africa, where fish and other aquatic foods are integral to diets and culture. This award acknowledges the unmatched potential of diverse aquatic foods in food system research, policies, and interventions, at national, regional and global levels.

Aquatic foods offer life-changing opportunities for millions of vulnerable women, children, and men to be well-nourished and healthy. The Arrell Food Innovation Award recognizes the value of research that builds on local diets, food production and cultures in low-and middle-income countries. This is crucial to shaping the global discourse on nutrition and public health, as well as our shared call to action to transform food systems towards sustainable healthy diets for all."

The award celebrates Thilsted as the first to identify the nutritional value of small fish species such as Mola and Trey Changwa Plieng, native to Bangladesh and Cambodia. This breakthrough showed that these commonly found and consumed small fish are rich in micronutrients and essential fatty acids that offer life-changing benefits for children's cognitive development in their first 1000 days of life and the nutrition and health of their mothers.

Armed with this knowledge, Thilsted worked with local communities, researchers, governments and the private sector to develop nutrition-sensitive approaches to aquatic food systems from production, supply and consumption, to improve the access and intake of nutritious small fish among vulnerable children and women. This included the development of a number of practical and affordable nutrition-sensitive innovations, like homestead pond polyculture, women-friendly harvesting techniques, nutritional education campaigns and the development of culturally appropriate fish-based products, like fish powder and fish chutney, suitable for consumption by young children and lactating women.

The pond polyculture system is a cost-effective and environmentally sustainable way of farming small and large fish species together in homestead ponds, water bodies, and rice fields. This innovation which helped to significantly increase the quality, diversity, and quantity of available, nutritious food in many local communities, prompted a large-scale shift towards aquaculture production in Bangladesh. In addition, it led the Government of Bangladesh to recognize the pond polyculture system as a critical innovation for meeting national targets to beat hunger, malnutrition, gender inequality, and poverty.

Her nutrition-sensitive approaches to food production from land and water have put nutrition and public health outcomes at the forefront, with due consideration for equal access to and affordability of diverse nutritious foods for all and environmental health and sustainability. For the last 10 years, Thilsted has been leading WorldFish's efforts to adapt and scale these approaches across countries in Asia, Africa and the Pacific where aquatic foods are central to local diets, livelihoods and culture.

Dr. Evan Fraser, the director of Arrell Food Institute, President & Vice-Chancellor of University of Guelph Dr. Charlotte Yates, WorldFish's Director General and CGIAR Senior Director of Aquatic Food Systems, Gareth Johnstone, Claudia Sadoff, Managing Director, Research Delivery and Impact, and Executive Management Team Convener expressed their best wishes and congratulations on this award announcement.

This year, Thilsted was also awarded the 2021 World Food Prize, she is a member of the Steering Committee of the High-Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) on Food Security and Nutrition; Vice Chair for Action Track 4: Advance Equitable Livelihoods of the upcoming UN Food Systems Summit 2021 and also a UN Food Systems.