In Africa, in Ethiopia, South Sudan and the island of Madagascar, as well as in Yemen on the Arabian peninsula, many people are suffering right now from famine – they have almost nothing to eat. And the problem could spread.
That was the message last week from the head of the WFP, an organisation where all the world’s countries in the United Nations help each other to get enough food. He asked rich countries to provide 5 billion euros to help send emergency food.
People have suffered from famines forever. But the WFP has been part of a huge change in the world that means it’s rather unusual now. When it was set up, exactly 60 years ago, a person was up to 100 times more likely to die of hunger than today – even though there are now twice as many of us on planet Earth.
Last year, the WFP won the Nobel Peace Prize [link to our article] for saving millions of lives, for example by flying in huge quantities of food to disaster zones.
“Nobel Food Prize”
Help in emergencies is only part of the secret of the world’s success against hunger. Scientists have also spent the last half-century finding ways for people to farm better, grow more crops and provide more food for themselves.
One of these scientists is Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted. In May, she was awarded the World Food Prize for 2021. People call it the “Nobel Food Prize” because of how important it is. She was honoured for her work in helping people farm fish to better feed their families.
Good little fish
Mrs. Thilsted is now 72 years old. When she was growing up in a village on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, famines were still killing many millions of people every year around the world. She studied the science of food and farming and came to work in Asia, where her ancestors were from.
She won this year’s World Food Prize for a discovery she made in Bangladesh and Cambodia. In these Asian countries, she found that little fish that no one had paid much attention to actually contained lots of really good stuff to keep people healthy.
Fish farming for life
Shakuntala didn’t just stop with her research. She talked about her ideas to people in governments. And she’s basically changed the way millions of people eat, in Asia, Africa and around the Pacific Ocean.
In Bangladesh, for example, where there are lots of rivers and marshes, she persuaded the government to promote a special way for people to farm fish as a way to stop families going hungry, and make sure they get enough of the right things we need to be healthy.
It’s called polyculture and it means keeping various different kinds of fish in the same ponds, big ones and those famous little ones. It’s cheap. It’s simple. And it allows people to catch much more fish. It’s also not as damaging to the environment as some fish farming.
Food from the sea
Mrs. Thilsted continues to work to promote the idea that we can eat more food from the water – not just fish but plants like seaweed. And that way, people should never be hungry.
“Two-thirds of the planet is covered by water,” she said in a media interview last month. “So we must make use of this.”