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FAO support for Bangladesh to fight micronutrient deficiencies

  • Published at 11:09 pm September 4th, 2019
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Finance Ministry’s Economic Relations Division Secretary, Monowar Ahmed, and FAO Representative in Bangladesh, Robert D Simpson, signs the project agreement at the NEC Conference Room-1 in the Planning Commission Campus in Dhaka on Wednesday, September 4, 2019 Courtesy

New soil management and seaweed projects launched  

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations on Wednesday took up an innovative project to improve the nutritional quality of locally produced foods in Bangladesh.

The move comes amidst growing concern over soil loosing essential micronutrients in Bangladesh thereby, affecting nutrition value of foods produced in the country.

The new project, on sustainable soil management, aims to improve the nutritional quality of locally produced foods and Bangladesh has been selected as one of three countries – together with Burkina Faso and Malawi – to pilot the project as people in these countries commonly have micronutrient deficiencies. 

According to a recent research article carried in the internationally acclaimed Journal of Nutritional Science (JNS), though the severity of various micronutrient deficiencies has declined since the 1980s in Bangladesh, a significant proportion of preschool-age children remains with deficiencies in vitamin A (20•5 %), zinc (44•5 %) and vitamin D (39•6 %); about one-third of these children are anaemic, and 10•7 % of the children are iron deficient. 

According to the 2017 study, a high proportion of non-pregnant and non-lactating women is deficient in zinc (57 %) and nearly one-half of the pregnant and lactating women are anaemic in the country. 

The USD 1.5 million German-financed project – ‘Sustainable soil management for nutrition-sensitive agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia’ – will examine the transfer of nutrients from soils to crops with the aim of improving the level of nutrients in food. 

Dietary micronutrient deficiencies affect a large part of the global population. The World Health Organization estimates that globally some two billion people are affected by iron deficiency and that some 750 million people suffer from iodine deficiency. 

There are a number of reasons for the occurrence of dietary micronutrient deficiencies. A country or region can suffer from dietary micronutrient deficiencies if the majority of locally produced foods have a low content of a specific mineral or micronutrient, as a result of the fact that the soils on which local foods are grown are low in their contents or availability of this nutrient.  

In various regions in the world iodine deficiency disorders, such as cretinism and goiter, are widely prevalent and strongly related with low levels of iodine in local soils and, as a result, in foods grown on these soils or in drinking water derived from these soils.

Finance Ministry’s Economic Relations Division (ERD) Secretary, Monowar Ahmed, and FAO Representative in Bangladesh, Robert D Simpson, signed the project agreement at the NEC Conference Room-1 in the Planning Commission Campus in Dhaka on Wednesday. ERD Additional Secretary (UN), Sultana Afroz, was also present at the signing ceremony. 

They also signed another agreement on a project on exploiting potential of seaweed. 

The main objective of the first project is to promote and support the application of sustainable soil management (SSM) for nutrition-sensitive agriculture with the purpose to improve the nutritional quality of locally produced foods. 

It will develop comprehensive policy guidance for SSM, based on a multidisciplinary and multi-stakeholder approach. This requires an extensive stock-taking of existing knowledge about the transfer conditions of nutrients from soils to the edible part of crops, and an illustration of the role of soil management in improved food and nutrition interventions. 

Steps to be taken under this project include: a) assessment of current knowledge and identification of the main knowledge gaps on the soil-plant micronutrient linkages through workshops and a review of existing projects; b) establishment of two pilot sites per country in order to identify good practice focused on increasing micronutrient contents in the soil; c) supporting national institutions in identifying, demonstrating, and disseminating SSM practices to tackle micronutrient deficiencies in soils and crops; d) sharing and discussing the main scientific and technical outcomes of the project during national and international workshops: e) development of technical guideline and policy briefs on SSM for nutrition-sensitive agriculture. 

The second new project will help to exploit the potential of seaweed in Bangladesh.  

Apart from its wide-ranging uses in many industries, seaweed contributes greatly to the nutritional status of communities due to its rich composition of nutrients. The global seaweed industry is estimated to be worth around USD 6 billion. 

The FAO-funded ‘Support to seaweed cultivation, processing and marketing through assessment and capacity development’ project will be implemented by FAO in collaboration with the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC). 

The project will contribute to food security for Bangladesh’s large and growing population, encourage use of the sea as a sustainable resource, and help develop skills and jobs through the harvesting, processing, and marketing of seaweed. 

After signing the two project agreements, FAO Representative in Bangladesh Robert D Simpson said: “Our goal is to achieve food security for all and make sure that people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives. These two innovative projects will contribute to this goal in Bangladesh, through exploiting seaweed as a food resource and improving nutrition through sustainable soil management. They will build on FAO’s considerable contribution in helping to defeat hunger in the country.”