Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury on Wednesday said Bangladesh is still facing formidable challenges to improve its nutritional status despite being a food-sufficient country.
“While Bangladesh has experienced steady advances in food availability, the country is facing different challenges to develop its nutritional status,” she said while speaking at a seminar.
“Overall the levels of under-nutrition among mothers and children are still high. About 36 percent of under 5-year-old children are stunted and one-third of children are underweight.”
The government is making further efforts to improve the situation she added.
Matia Chowdhury was speaking at a seminar on ‘Agriculture, Nutrition, and Gender Linkages (ANGeL) Baseline Study’ in the city.
Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) along with Bangladesh Policy Research and Strategy Support Programme of International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) jointly organised the seminar at Agricultural Policy Support Unit (APSU) of MoA.
The agriculture minister said the government is financing a future where hunger and malnutrition will be eradicated, because these are preventable problems.
The ANGeL baseline survey was conducted under Bangladesh Policy Research and Strategy Support Program (PRSSP), implemented by IFPRI, with financial support from USAID.
The survey sampled 3,125 treatment households and 875 control households across 16 districts in rural Bangladesh from November 2015 to January 2016.
MoA plans to use ANGeL survey data to identify which interventions most effectively help increase agricultural diversity, improve nutrition and promote women’s empowerment.
The baseline study also highlighted the need for further investment in the agriculture sector, and in particular support for smallholder farmers to promote diversification beyond cereal crops to make availability of quality and diversified nutrition.
The study said given that most produced food is consumed locally and nationally, crop choices have implications for nutrition.
The study also observed low levels (15-21 per cent) of agricultural diversity among the ANGeL samples, which fall below the national average of 24 per cent.
Baseline results indicate that the share of rice on total cropped land is higher than the 2011-12 BIHS national rural average, which is 82 per cent against 77 per cent.
The study found larger year-to-year price fluctuations for non-rice crops than for rice, which indicates relatively high levels of market-induced risks for production of non-rice crops.
“High-value crops, especially fruits and vegetables, have thin domestic markets, owing to relatively low level of demand for them. Horticultural crops also face special problems related to perishability, which increases the risks of marketing.”
However, it says, these factors also imply that addressing the market efficiency issues is likely to be an effective means of reducing the risks associated with adoption of high-value agricultural production.
The ANGeL Project aims to reveal the constraints to agricultural diversity as well as to formulate appropriate policies to remove them.
MoA Secretary Mohammad Moinuddin Abdullah said the ministry is implementing the project to generate evidence to identify effective interventions for complex and inter-sectoral problems.
He expressed the hope that the project will be able to identify which combination of interventions will be most effective in overcoming the problems, and to strengthen the links between agriculture, nutrition and women’s empowerment.
Mission Director of USAID Bangladesh Janina Jaruzelski said the result of the study will enable the country to make decisions on public expenditure.
She said gender aspect in the study will help bring in behavioural changes about nutrition and decision-making at the household level.
M Syeduzzaman, former finance minister, Dr A M M Shawkat Ali, former caretaker government advisor, Mohammad Nazmul Islam, director general of Agricultural Policy Support Unit, Md Toufiqul Alam, ANGeL project director, Md Manzurul Hannan, director general of Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), Matt Curtis, deputy director of Economic Growth Office — USAID-Bangladesh, and Dr Akhter Ahmed, chief of party of Policy Research and Strategy Support Programme — IFPRI, among others, also spoke at the seminar.
This report was first published in The Financial Express on April 27, 2017