Focus on fish : News & Views From Trinidad & Tobago

Focus on fish : News & Views From Trinidad & Tobago


Focus on fish : News & Views From Trinidad & Tobago

World-renowned researcher’s food-security plea:

DR SHAKUNTALA HARRACKSINGH THILSTED made a renewed call for regional stakeholders to prioritise fish and other aquatic species to bolster the Caribbean’s food and nutrition security systems.

The advice comes from Dr Thilsted when she made a courtesy call to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (Trinidad office) last Friday. The FAO was privileged to host the world-renowned researcher, who was the first woman of Asian ancestry to win the coveted World Food Prize in 2021.

Dr Thilsted was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science from The University of the West Indies last Thursday for her contributions to agricultural science and nutrition. She is a 1971 graduate of The UWI with a BSc in tropical agriculture and holds a PhD from the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Denmark. She is also the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

Dr Thilsted’s visit to the office of the FAO in St Clair, Port of Spain, was highly anticipated, with invited stakeholders eager to engage her on several food and nutrition-related topics currently trending in the country and the region.

Among the many issues discussed were:

• The need for transforming the food systems in the Caribbean to make healthy diets more affordable.

• The urgent need for enhancing the momentum towards food and nutrition security, with emphasis on diverse foods for nourishment, rather than feeding. In the context of the school feeding initiatives, suggestions were made on the possibility of catalysing school-feeding programmes with aquatic foods to complement foods from crops and livestock.

• The need for greater emphasis to be placed on aquatic species and the engagement of women and rural communities to stimulate employment and enhance food and nutrition security, contributing to “no one being left behind”.

• The heavy reliance on the government for driving the food systems transformation, and the need to strengthen civil society and farmers’ and women’s organisations, who can lobby the government to fast-track policy actions for community development and strategic support.

Anecdotal evidence has shown that the Caribbean continues to focus on the strengthening of supply chains, without a philosophical approach of working from consumption to the supply chain. There is a need for more research on consumer choices and preferences, and the types of diverse foods that can be produced to meet those demands. For example, aquatic foods like dried fish and fish powders, especially since food is the new medicine.

Dr Thilsted opined that the Caribbean needs to consider the global context, noting that “at the global level, there is competition between fish for food for human beings, especially the poor and vulnerable in coastal communities, and fish for feed. Note that it is not just fish for fish feed and fish oil for aquaculture. The shrimp industry she said is also a big user of fish oil and fish meat.

In recent years, the amount of fish that is used in pet foods and the population of pets is increasing.” In this context, the proposition was made that the Caribbean may wish to look at alternative sources of feed for livestock.

There is not enough evidence of strong partnerships (government, private sector, academia, CSOs, farmers and fishers’ organisations, etc) for achieving food systems transformation. The renewed partnership between the FAO and UWI augurs well for science, innovation, and technology transfer in transforming the food systems.

Dr Thilsted emphasised that UWI can attach its post-graduate students to work closely with the FAO on internships to conduct research on various aspects of food systems transformation, food and nutrition security, and how they are related to the achievements of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in the region.

Dr Thilsted pledged her support to share some of her research, experiences and lessons learned from other regions to help the Caribbean region enhance its food systems for the effective nourishment of its population. In this regard, the engagement of FAO’s chief scientists, chief economists, the assistant director general of Latin America and the Caribbean, and the sub-regional coordinator will be pertinent in guiding the next steps.

During her FAO visit, Dr Thilsted interacted with the FAO representative and staff, the UN resident coordinator, heads of UN agencies, the dean and staff from the Faculty of Food and Agriculture/UWI, government and private sector stakeholder representatives and the media.