We often talk about the importance of moving food from “farm to fork.”
I believe it is time to add another phrase to our vocabulary: “pond to pot.”
The winner of this year’s World Food Prize has dedicated her life to this concept, as she promotes the best practices for raising small fish and making sure those excellent sources of protein, calcium, iron and more are easily available for families as part of a balanced and nutritious diet.
Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted should be an inspiration to us all: She’s a brilliant researcher who has put her ideas into action.
Food security cannot be limited by landlocked agriculture. We also have to think about pond-based aquaculture—and Dr. Thilsted has showed us how.
“This award is an important recognition of the essential but overlooked role of fish and aquatic food systems in agricultural research for development,” she said. “Fish and aquatic foods offer life-changing opportunities for millions of vulnerable women, children, and men to be healthy and well nourished.”
Her work is global: A native of Trinidad and Tobago with ancestors from India, she is a citizen of Denmark whose most significant work took place in Bangladesh, where she studied a small native fish species. She saw how it contributed to essential nutrition, especially with micronutrients and fatty acids. Productivity tripled as she established sustainable ways to raise these fish in rice fields and move them from pond to pot.
“Now millions of low-income families across many countries—including Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Nepal, Burma, Zambia, and Malawi—are eating small fish regularly, dried and fresh, in everything from chutneys to porridges, giving kids and breastfeeding mothers key nutrients that will protect children for a lifetime,” said U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, on the day Thilsted was announced as a World Food Prize Laureate.
Dr. Thilsted will receive the prize formally this October at a ceremony in Des Moines, Iowa. For women like me and around the world who work every day to improve the lives of rural women, the real value of her recognition lies in its ability to inspire the scientists who innovate and the farmers who strive to ensure our food security.
Dr. Thilsted inspires me.
Here in Ghana, I grow cassava, yams, and fruit—and moving food from farm to fork is a major part of what I do. I’m also involved in pond-to-pot activities as Executive Director of the Development Action Association, which works with farmers throughout my country to improve food security.
We focus mainly on rural women as they grow cassava and raise small animals. We also work in partnership with the Coastal Resources Center of the University of Rhode Island to help them produce and process seafood.
People everywhere turn to the seas and rivers for food. Women working with the DAA buy fish at the beach. We teach them how to process it in a variety of ways: smoking, sun drying, frying, and so on. Then they sell it at the market.
The sea is our big pond, and these women are essential in putting food into Ghana’s pots.
We also rely on the estuary of the Densu River, where we cultivate oysters. They are delicious to eat, and they are nutritious. Like fish, they deliver protein and calcium and contribute to a balanced diet.
Our women gather them from oyster beds in shallow water. They pick the oysters with their hands, placing them in floating dishes and onto small boats.
Oysters require careful management. To keep this marine population healthy, we must put limits on what we take and when we take it. We must protect this resource from exploitation, and always remain ready to rebuild. If we overburden the oyster beds, we’ll lose them forever.
In Ghana, we seek to maintain our oysters as well as small fish populations such as sardines, herring, and anchovies.
Our goal is sustainable production and nutritious food security. Depletion of the sea is a constant challenge for fisheries. Dr. Thilsted demonstrates that we can solve difficult challenges. Her efforts have helped the people of southeast Asia and show the rest of us how it is possible to develop reliable methods of producing food from the sea.
With the rest of the world, I look forward to celebrating Dr. Thilsted, her work, and the lives she has impacted. Perhaps one day we’ll call Dr. Thilsted “the mother of the Blue Revolution.”