MSU Feed the Future projects gain global attention at Borlaug International Dialogue
A virtual side event at this year's Norman E. Borlaug International Dialogue has brought global attention to projects led by Mississippi State researchers. (Photo By: Submitted)
By: Karen Brasher
The Borlaug International Dialogue, held virtually last month, is an annual event bringing together over 1,200 people from more than 65 countries to address cutting-edge issues related to global food security and nutrition. It has been called the "premier conference in the world on global agriculture."
MSU President Mark Keenum provided the opening address to the side event hosted by the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish. The lab also is the funder for the MSU scholars' featured research.
"The Borlaug Dialogue is a wonderful opportunity to engage in discussions about how best to transform food systems and combat global hunger and malnutrition," Keenum said.
As the chairman of the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development, which serves as an advisory body to the U.S. Agency for International Development, Keenum spoke to the importance of the Fish Innovation Lab and its place at Mississippi State and in the global arena.
"It is a natural fit to have the Fish Innovation Lab here at Mississippi State University. We have very strong experience in aquaculture and fish health, providing solutions to fight global hunger and improve livelihoods," he said.
He noted that Mississippi is the largest aquaculture producer in the U.S.
Of the 19 active projects in seven countries funded by the Fish Innovation Lab, two MSU faculty-led projects were highlighted during the event to demonstrate the innovative, sustainable approaches to ensuring access to aquatic foods for vulnerable groups.
FishFirst! Zambia is led by scientists in the university's Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and Social Science Research Center. Research Professor Kathleen Ragsdale and Assistant Research Professor Mary Read-Wahidi lead the project along with colleagues in Zambia. Their research examines the constraints and opportunities faced by women, men and youth involved in harvesting, processing, selling and trading fish at Zambia's Lake Kariba.
"Our goal is to increase access to these nutritious fish among vulnerable family members, particularly mothers and infants," Ragsdale said.
Their research has led them to a hopeful solution, to develop a tasty micronutrient supplement for children ages 6-23 months that uses local dried fish powder already part of the cultural fabric of Lake Kariba and East Africa. The supplement is called ComFA+Fish, and parents can easily sprinkle it over children's food to help boost its nutritional quality. The idea was inspired by Shakuntala Thilsted, this year's winner of the prestigious World Food Prize, who also serves as a contributing researcher with FishFirst! Zambia. The aim is that women will not only use ComFA+Fish to elevate nutrition in their families, but also produce and sell it to generate more income. The prototype of ComFA+Fish, which is the first stage in producing a supplement women can market locally to increase their family's economic security and resiliency, is currently in development.
"We're not just talking about women's empowerment, we're talking about empowerment for everyone," said Ragsdale. "Empowering women to be better farmers, better fishers and better able to sell their products empowers the whole family."
In Nigeria, MSU faculty and students are working with colleagues to improve the quality and safety of processed fish products. Terezie Tolar-Peterson, associate professor in the Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion and a MAFES scientist, is the lead U.S. investigator and is working to facilitate training for local fish processors.
One of the Nourishing Nations project's main objectives is to educate women and youth fish processors about the benefits of fish in one's diet as well as teaching better fish processing practices and food safety.
"Although processing fish is an important method of reducing postharvest loss, traditional methods can lead to a multitude of food safety issues that put consumers at risk," Tolar-Peterson said.
Tolar-Peterson and colleagues are developing cost-per-nutrient guides, building capacity and educating women and youth fish processors on the best, most nutrient-rich methods to preserve their catch.
Grace Adegoye, a doctoral candidate under the direction of Tolar-Peterson and a native of Nigeria, developed and validated the facilitator's guide and developed interactive curriculum for the fish processor trainings.
Mark Lawrence, professor in the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine, leads the Fish Innovation Lab.
USAID is the lead U.S. Government agency for international development and humanitarian efforts to save lives, reduce poverty, strengthen democratic governance and help people progress beyond assistance.
About Feed the Future
Feed the Future is the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative. With a focus on smallholder farmers, particularly women, Feed the Future supports partner countries in developing their agriculture sectors to spur economic growth and trade that increase incomes and reduce hunger, poverty and undernutrition. For more information, visit www.feedthefuture.gov.
About the Fish Innovation Lab
Funded by USAID, the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish aims to reduce poverty and improve nutrition, food security, and livelihoods in developing countries by supporting the sustainable development of aquaculture and fisheries.