36% of Bangladeshi children suffer from zinc deficiency

More than one-third of children under the age of five in Bangladesh suffer from inadequate zinc in their diets, which causes stunting, lowers immunity, and increases the risk of diarrheal disease and respiratory infections.

Bangladesh annually loses over $700 million in GDP due to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, Dr Md Khairul Bashar, country manager of HarvestPlus Bangladesh, said in Rangpur on Tuesday.

He was speaking at a workshop on policy and program inclusion of biofortified crops in northern Bangladesh through HarvestPlus’s Integrated Food System Approach to Build Nutrition Security Project.

At the workshop, Md Mozibar Rahman, project coordinator of HarvestPlus Bangladesh, said that the Canadian government-funded project aimed to reach 405,067 households with biofortified zinc rice seed and grain.

Meanwhile, eight rice millers of Rangpur division milled and marketed 1,970 tons of branded zinc rice of BRRI dhan74 and BRRI dhan84.

The project is going to facilitate the sale of seeds of 400 tons zinc rice BRRI dhan74 and BRRI dhan84 by seed companies in Rangpur division.

Md Abdul Wahhab Bhuiyan, divisional commissioner of Rangpur, said: “If HarvestPlus has a biofortification certification, we have to give emphasis on the dissemination program. If BRRI has the certification, then the government must take initiative to disseminate.”

Md Tauhidul Ikbal, additional director of Department of Agriculture Extension in Rangpur, emphasized the extension of zinc rice in Rangpur division. 

He also suggested working with the Directorate General of Food and Department of Agricultural Extension closely to mainstream zinc rice in the government procurement plan. 

He believes that zinc rice can contribute to reducing zinc deficiency in the malnourished population.

Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) developed the biofortified zinc rice variety BRRI dhan62 first globally. There are now  nine varieties of zinc rice.

The biofortified crops facilitated by HarvestPlus are developed through conventional plant breeding methods, so biofortified crops in Bangladesh are not genetically modified.

Up to June 2021 HarvestPlus Bangladesh had reached 2.7 million households with zinc rice in 65 upazilas of 29 districts in eight divisions.  

More than 514,884 people learnt about biofortified crops through farmers’ field days, courtyard meetings, school sensitization programs, and more. 

Md Zakir Hossain, additional divisional commissioner of Rangpur, and Md Shah Alam, additional director (Acting) at Department of Agriculture Extension, Dinajpur, were present as special guests at the workshop.

More than 40 higher officials of different departments from diverse backgrounds, journalists of print and electronic media, officials of HarvestPlus Bangladesh, and project implementing partners NGOs RDRS, NAZIR and TMSS were present at the workshop.

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