Emerging scientist: Lauren Pincus

As a global leader in fisheries and aquaculture research, science is at the forefront of our work, delivering robust evidence to policy makers, technological innovations to poor producers and consumers, and novel tools to transform fish agri-food systems. In this new series, we profile our emerging scientists, early career research talents who are already making a significant contribution to fisheries and aquaculture knowledge.

Lauren Pincus is a Value Chain Scientist, based in Penang, Malaysia. Her research focuses on fish value chain development, including developing fish-based products beneficial in the first 1000 days of life—from conception to the child’s second birthday—and reducing fish waste and loss. Prior to joining WorldFish in October 2018, Lauren worked in East Africa, including as a Boren Fellow and a GloCal Global Health Fellow. She has an MSc in international agricultural development and a PhD in horticulture and agronomy from the University of California Davis, United States.

You recently joined WorldFish. What projects will you be working on?

I will play an active role in a major new aquaculture project that aims to increase income, diversify diets and empower women in Bangladesh and Nigeria. I’ll be focused on Bangladesh, where the project will engage with the private sector to connect small-scale fish farmers to markets. We will also work with the local fish industry to develop new fish-based products that can be consumed by pregnant and lactating women and small children to boost nutrition.

I will also provide technical expertise to a USAID-funded project in Odisha, India, which is targeting primary school pupils and strengthening the connection between local fish suppliers and school feeding programs.

Production of nutrient-dense fish powder, Zambia. Photo by Chosa Mweemba.

Globally, waste and loss in the value chain is emerging as a key issue. Why is that?

Experts are slowly recognizing and quantifying the enormous wasted potential that exists in our current food system. We are squandering our opportunity to improve malnutrition when nutritious food rots before it reaches consumers in developing countries. Food producers operating on slim profit margins lose valuable income when their products decrease in value along the supply chain. We all suffer when land, water and fossil fuels are used to produce food that is never consumed. 

For all these reasons, decreasing waste and loss and improving the efficiency of food supply chains is seen as necessary for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 12 (Responsible consumption and production) specifically calls for halving food waste across the globe by 2030.

What’s the most exciting thing about your research area?

The opportunity to talk directly with fish-producing households and the range of value chain actors operating around them. By visiting households and businesses directly, it’s possible to find solutions that work for them.  

What’s the most memorable situation you’ve found yourself in in your work?

It was very motivating and humbling to work directly with smallholder farmers in rural Uganda for my PhD dissertation. My research took a participatory approach where the farmer field schools and research experiments were planned together with the farmers. This required ongoing, direct engagement with everyone in my study, which resulted in a project that truly spoke to farmers’ needs.

What innovation do you think has the greatest potential to change value chains?

Right now, I’m particularly interested in how value chains can be strengthened to improve the livelihoods of farmers, particularly women farmers who are typically not paid for their work. 

Local fish market in Khulna, Bangladesh. Photo by M. Yousuf Tushar. April 17, 2014

Can you tell us about the piece of research that you most enjoyed writing?

I haven't been at WorldFish long enough to publish anything related to fish. The article I had the most fun writing was a qualitative study investigating how Ugandan farmers thought about soil and soil management. The article contains useful lessons for extension agents who talk to farmers about soil management and hope to improve their practices but who don’t realize that the language they use and the way they currently teach farmers is ineffective. My research demonstrates more effective ways for extension to communicate with farmers.

What do you hope your research achieves?  

I hope that farmers can commercialize their production and participate in the wage economy more as a result of my research. 

What would your dream role be?

I love working directly with farmers to fill the gaps in their production systems, which helps them improve their livelihoods. It looks like I’ll have several opportunities to do that at WorldFish, in BangladeshIndia and Zambia.