Small fish can contribute to the nourishing of Bangladesh
Fsheries are one of the fastest growing sectors in Bangladesh, making a significant contribution to the country’s GDP in recent years. The government of Bangladesh recently claimed that Bangladesh has achieved self-sufficiency in fish production, with an annual production of 4.05 million tons, in response to the annual demand of 4.03 million tons.
This is good news to us.
The government reports that fish consumption is slightly above the recommended amount (60 g/capita/day), however, there is concern about the equity of fish consumption -- whether higher production has increased fish consumption among the poor. Despite increased total fish consumption, there were significant decreases in iron and calcium intakes from fish.
Bangladeshis continue to consume large amounts of the staple food, rice. 70% of energy stems from cereals and only 3% from animal-source foods (ASFs). ASFs, especially fish, are an important food group in the diets of women and children in the first 1,000 days of life for optimal growth, development, and cognition. 35% of the population consume low-quality diets, six out of 10 food groups.
Fish is a unique source of micronutrients: Vitamin A, vitamin B12, iron, calcium, zinc, as well as essential fatty acids and animal protein. A study on the nutrient composition of 55 common fish species of Bangladesh showed that small indigenous fish species (SIS) contain more micronutrients than large fish.
Micronutrient content in the raw, edible parts of fish species was variable -- iron ranged from 0.34mg to 19 mg/100g, zinc from 0.6 to 4.7 mg/100g, calcium from 8.6mg to 1,900mg/100g, vitamin A from 0 micrograms to 2,503 micrograms/100g, and vitamin B12 from 0.50 micrograms to 14 micrograms/100g raw, edible parts. Several fish species from capture-fisheries are rich in essential fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (86-310mg/100g raw, edible parts).
Protein content in all fish species was fairly constant, ranging from 14.7g to 20.6g/100g raw, edible parts.
Large proportions of the Bangladeshi population -- particularly pregnant and lactating women and children under five years of age -- suffer from “hidden hunger,” ie micronutrient deficiencies. Prevalence of stunting, underweight, and wasting among children under five years are reported to be 36.1%, 32.6%, and 14.3%, respectively. Vitamin A deficiency stands at 20.5% and 5.4% among children under five and pregnant and lactating women (PLW), respectively.
Some 33% of children under five and 50% of pregnant women suffer iron deficiency anaemia. Zinc deficiency afflicts 44.6% of pre-school children and 57.3% of non-pregnant, non-lactating (NPNL) women. Prevalence of calcium deficiency is 24.4% for pre-school children, 17.6% for school-aged children, and 26.3% for NPNL women. Poor Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) practices (such as initiation of complementary feeding before six months of age) contribute to poor nutrition. Moreover, only 22.8% of children aged between 6-23 months receive minimum acceptable diet.
A recent study revealed that 50% of care-givers introduced fish at six months of age and the mean age of introduction of small fish was 8.7 months, due to fear of feeding small fish with bones to young children.
To alleviate this pervasive micronutrient deficiency in women and young children in Bangladesh, fish, especially SIS, can be the primary ASF, supplying multiple essential micronutrients. Using a standard portion size of fish (50g/day for PLW and 25g/day for young children), 14 SIS met more than or equal to 50% of the recommended nutrient intake (RNI) of calcium for PLW, and 18 SIS met more than or equal to 50% of the RNI of calcium for children (7-23 months of age).
Cost benefit analyses have shown that enhancing homestead ASF production, especially mola, can improve the nutritional status of women and children. Hence, several scientists have promoted the production and consumption of SIS. Thus, production of SIS such as mola, dhela, and darkina should be boosted in the vast number of homestead ponds (4.77 million) throughout rural Bangladesh.
It has been shown that polyculture of carp species with mola has no negative effects on overall fish production, however, the nutritional quality of the total production is greatly enhanced.
Process evaluation conducted by WorldFish has shown that increased production of mola does not necessarily ensure increased and frequent consumption of the fish. Thus, introduction of an easy-to-use and convenient harvesting technology such as “women-friendly mola gill net” promotes increased consumption.
Promotion of fish-based products such as fish chutney for PLW women and fish powder for young children increases SIS consumption and can alleviate micronutrient deficiencies.
WorldFish is promoting nutrition-sensitive aquaculture through various projects. Nutrition-sensitive aquaculture includes the integration of nutrient-rich SIS into existing carp polyculture. It also emphasizes the use of the mola gill net for the frequent harvesting of small amounts of mola by women for home consumption.
In addition, nutrient-rich vegetables, for example orange sweet potato, are grown in the homestead garden and on pond dykes. Finally, social and behaviour change, communication, and messaging on essential nutrition and essential hygiene actions are integrated in nutrition-sensitive aquaculture.
Fish is an irreplaceable ASF for the first 1,000 days of life for achieving optimal child growth, development, and cognition. Every household pond, along with other unused water bodies, should be brought under the fish polyculture, along with small indigenous fish to optimize the potential for fish production system to improve nutrition, particularly among vulnerable groups.
Mozammel Hoque Bhuiya is Nutrition Specialist, WorldFish Bangladesh. Shamia Khanam Chowdhury is Nutrition Specialist, WorldFish Bangladesh. Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted is Research Program Leader, Value Chains and Nutrition, WorldFish. Malcolm Dickson is Country Director, WorldFish Bangladesh.