Fisheries are one of the fastest growing sectors in Bangladesh, making a significant contribution to the country's GDP in recent years. The government 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. According to the government reports, fish consumption is slightly above the recommended amount (60g/capita/day), however, there is a 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 percent of energy stem from cereals and only 3 percent 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. Thirty-five percent of the population consumes low quality diets, 6 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 0.34 to 19 mg/100 g, zinc from 0.6 to 4.7 mg/100 g, calcium from 8.6 to 1900 mg/100 g, vitamin A from 0 to 2503 ?g/100 g and vitamin B12 from 0.50 to 14 ?g/100 g raw, edible parts.
Several fish species from capture fisheries are rich in essential fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (86-310 mg/100 g raw, edible parts). Protein content in all fish species was fairly constant, ranging from 14.7 to 20.6 g/100 g raw, edible partsLarge proportions of the Bangladeshi population, particularly pregnant and lactating women and children under five years of age suffer from 'hidden hunger'; micronutrient deficiencies. Prevalence of stunting, underweight and wasting among children under five years of age are reported to be 36.1 percent, 32.6 percent, and 14.3 percent, respectively.
Vitamin A deficiency stands at 20.5 percent and 5.4 percent among children under five years of age and pregnant and lactating women (PLW), respectively. Thirty-three percent of children under five years of age and 50 percent of pregnant women suffer iron deficiency anemia.
Zinc deficiency afflicts 44.6 percent of pre-school children and 57.3 percent of non-pregnant, non-lactating (NPNL) women. Prevalence of calcium deficiency is 24.4 percent for pre-school children, 17.6 percent for school-aged children and 26.3 percent for NPNL women. Poor Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) practices (such as initiation of complementary feeding before 6 months of age) contribute to poor nutrition.
Moreover, only 22.8 percent of children aged 6-23 months receive minimum acceptable diet. A recent study revealed that 50 percent of caregivers introduced fish at 6 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 (50 g/day for PLW and 25 g/day for young children), 14 SIS met ?50 percent of the recommended nutrient intake (RNI) of calcium for PLW, and 18 SIS met ?50 percent of the RNI of calcium for children (7-23months of age). Three species of SIS and one species of prawn met ?25 percent of the RNI of iron for PLW and infants.
Four SIS met ?25 percent of the RNI of zinc for PLW and ?25 percent of the RNI of zinc for young children. Three SIS: mola, dhela and darkina could potentially contribute ?25 percent of RNI of vitamin A for PLW and infants in a standard portion. Only 17 grams mola (6-7 individual mola) can meet 100 percent of recommended intake of vitamin A for children under five years of age.
Cost benefit analyses showed 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 effect on total fish production; however, the nutritional quality of the total production is greatly enhanced. In addition, the carp - mola polyculture is more profitable than polyculture of only carp species.
Process evaluation conducted by WorldFish has shown that increased production of mola does not ensure increased and frequent consumption of mola. 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. Using fish powder has the advantage of overcoming the fear of bone in child feeding.
WorldFish is promoting nutrition-sensitive aquaculture through different 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 frequent harvesting of small amounts of mola by women for home consumption.
In addition, nutrient-rich vegetables, for example, orange sweet potato (OSP) are grown in the homestead garden and on pond dykes. Finally, social and behavior change communication and messaging on essential nutrition and essential hygiene actions are integrated in nutrition-sensitive aquaculture.
Fish is an irreplaceable animal-source food 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.
The writers, Mozammel Hoque Bhuiya, Shamia Khanam Chowdhury, Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted PhD, and Malcolm Dickson, PhD, are associated with WorldFish, an international and nonprofit research organization