BANGLADESH: A new study has revealed that while fish intake has increased by 30 per cent in the country, Bangladeshi consumers are getting a smaller amount of important nutrients from seafood.
According to the scientists who carried out the analysis, this fact is connected to the nutritional value of the different fish species, which varies greatly. Local species from capture fisheries are generally much more nutritious than the species being farmed. But a combination of overfishing, pollution and environmental damage has led to significant losses in both biomass and the biodiversity available, EconoTimes reported.
At the same time, aquaculture has been rapidly expanding globally and since aquaculture was introduced in Bangladesh in the 1980s, the industry has grown rapidly and the country is now the world’s sixth largest producer of aquaculture products.
Growth in this sector has more than compensated for declines in the quantity of fish available from capture fisheries, and this is evident in large increases in consumption over time.
On the one hand, capture fisheries in the country are dominated by nearly 300 species of “small indigenous fish”, which are often consumed whole and are rich sources of important micronutrients including iron, zinc, calcium and vitamin A, as well as high-quality protein.
Aquaculture, on the other hand, is dominated by a handful of large fish species, both indigenous and exotic. Only the flesh of large fish is normally eaten, which is a rich source of high-quality protein, but generally has lower micronutrient content.
As diets have shifted towards more farmed fish, nutrient intakes from fish has declined, which has serious implications for a country suffering widespread malnutrition.
Indeed, Bangladesh has among the worst malnutrition rates in the world, since more than one in three children under five years of age are stunted – an indicator of chronic malnutrition and millions live with various micronutrient deficiencies.
This has been estimated to cost the country USD 1 billion each year in foregone economic productivity without taking into account the cost to the health-care system for treating malnutrition or other social costs.
Fish is a nutrient-rich food that can play a more significant role in addressing this global challenge, not only in Bangladesh but in many regions.
If the United Nations’ sustainable development goal of ending malnutrition is to be achieved, the goals of food production systems, including aquaculture, must be realigned to focus on nutrition. And this means diverse food systems that prioritise nutrient-rich foods.
A novel example of such an approach also comes from Bangladesh. Nutrient-rich small fish are produced in aquaculture systems alongside large fish in a practice known as polyculture, so that several species are raised in the same pond. The large fish can be sold for income, while small fish are harvested regularly for household consumption or, when in excess, for sale. Farmers are able to increase total yields while also improving the nutritional quality of their production systems.
One small fish, known as mola (Amblypharyngodon mola), is an exceptional source of vitamin A, and including it in polyculture systems has been shown to be a cost-effective strategy for alleviating vitamin A deficiency. Despite the evidence, this approach is yet to be widely adopted.
Research confirms that simply producing more food is not the only global challenge. The focus of food production systems, including aquaculture, must move beyond maximising yields to also consider nutritional quality. Otherwise, the world will continue to confront situations like the one in Bangladesh, where malnutrition remains.