World Food Prize 2021 for a global nutrition scientist Dr. Ms. Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted

Author: Prof. Arun Kumar Grover, Ex-Vice Chancellor, Panjab University, Chandigarh and Vice President, SPSTI

It is a matter for pride that World Food Prize 2021 has been awarded to a global scientist Dr. Ms. Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted, for her pioneering work to improve nutrition on fish based food systems.

Life and Career

Dr. Shakuntala is a person of Indian origin, daughter of Mr. Ram and Ms. Ramdai Haraksingh, Shakuntala (b. October 29, 1949)  grew up in Trinirad and obtained Bachelor of Science in Agriculture ( 1971) from University of West Indies, before moving to obtain PhD. in 1980 in Physiology of Nutrition from Royal Veteriniary and Agriculture University, Rvau, Denmark.
She married Danish citizen and a career diplomat Mr. Finn Thilsted in 1973 and they have two children, Sita and Anil.  Mr. Finn served as Ambassador of Denmark to Bangla Desh, Kenya and Nepal.
She has worked all across the globe in Tanzania, Bangla Desh, Malaysia, Denmark and USA.  She has been associated with the Royal Veterinary and Agriculture University, Rvau, Denmark since 1982. Her real research on nutrition issues in fisheries commenced during her visit to Bangla Desh after her PhD. The input that small fish species make women stronger was a crucial input for her.
She joined WorldFish, headquartered in Penang, Malaysia as a Researcher in 2010. WorldFish is part of Consultative Group on International Agricultural  research (CGIAR), a global research partnership dedicated to reducing poverty, enhancing food and nutrition security, and improving natural resources.
Nobel Laureate in Physiology (1922) Dr. A V Hill had visited India in 1944 and submitted a report titled ‘Scientific Research in India’, in his report he had laid special emphasis on research on Fisheries in India. The Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute had been established in India in 1947 itself, it became a part of IARI in 1967. Central Institute of Fisheries Education is a Deemed University today.     
Dr. Shakuntala  is the ninth person of Indian origin to win the World Food Prize since the institution of these Prizes by a foundation set up by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Norman Bourlaug in 1987. The first World Food Prize was awarded to Prof. M S Swaminathan (b. 1925) in 1987, followed by Dr. Varghese Kurien (1921-2012) in 1989, Dr. Gurdev Singh Khush (b.1935) in 1996, Dr. B R Barwale (1931-2017) in 1998, Dr. Surinder Vasal (b.1938) in 2000, Dr. M Vijay Gupta in 2005, Dr. Sanjay Rajaram (b. 1943) in 2014 and Dr. Rattan Lal (b. 1944) in 2020. Dr. Sanjay Rajaram and Dr. Rattan Lal  had both studied at IARI before moving abroad, they received their prizes as citizens of Mexico and USA. Dr. Rattan Lal had been listed to receive the honour of Padma Shri in January 2021, however, Padma award ceremony has so far not been held this year due to pandemic.

Dr. Ms. Shakuntala is the second person of Indian origin to be recognized for the world Food Prize in Fisheries in India, the first one was Dr. M. Vijay Gupta, who lives in Hyderabad at present. Dr. M S Swaminathan lives in Chennai and Dr. Surinder Vasal lives in Delhi.
Dr. Shakuntala is the first Asian woman to receive World Food Prize. The award carries prize of USD 250000.  The Infosys Science Prizes announced by Infosys Science Foundation, Bangalore  in six categories every year in the month of November carry cash prize of USD 100,000 in each discipline.

SPSTI popularizes these events

The Society for Promotion of Science and Technology in India (SPSTI) organizes every year Expository Lectures for general public on Nobel Prizes and their equivalents in different disciplines like Abel Prize in Mathematics, Turing Prize in Computer Science, World Food Prize, etc. in partnership with Chandigarh Chapters of different Science Academies of India.  The Abel Prize (2021) was announced in March. New expository lecture series for 2021 shall get initiated soon.