Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture in Bangladesh

  1.                                                                                                                      Md. Zahirul Haque
                                                                                                                 Mushroom Development Officer
                                                                                                                            Horticulture Wing
                                                                                                          Department of Agricultural Extension
                                                                                                                      Khamarbari, Dhaka-1215

Agriculture is the key driver of Bangladesh economic growth as well as food and nutritional security. Growth in agriculture reduces poverty at a faster rate compared to other sectors. Transformation of agriculture is taking place due to favourable policy environment and technology driven interventions. Producing more diversified crops in shrinking land for growing populations is the prime focus of the country’s development agenda. Government of Bangladesh is highly committed to protect and improve the environment and to preserve and safeguard the natural resources, biodiversity, wetlands, forests, fisheries and livestock for agricultural sustainability. With all these efforts Bangladesh achieved self-sufficiency in rice (4th Position in the world) and potatoes from its deficit level. A significant and steady progress is also observed in maize, fruits and vegetables production with the application of appropriate technologies.
Nutrition-sensitive agriculture is a food-based approach to agricultural development for addressing food insecurity, malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies. In Bangladesh, agricultural production has increased sharply in recent decades, but the dietary quality has not yet improved to the expected level. Low dietary diversity, inappropriate feeding practices and poor hygiene practices are associated with higher rate of micronutrient malnutrition, especially by young children and among pregnant and lactating women in the country. The United Nations has declared 2016 to 2025 as the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition. Adequate income is prerequisite to the use of the food supply.
In Bangladesh, malnutrition, stunting and wasting are the indication of hunger. Nutrition is an integral part of food security. Malnutrition entails economic loss of about 2-3 percent of GDP and productivity loss of 10 percent of lifetime earnings. The median physical and cognitive loss from iron deficiency nationally estimated to be 4.05% of GDP. The cherished dream of Government is a “hunger and poverty free Bangladesh” by 2030 and prosperous country by around 2041. The Government adopted National Nutrition Policy 2015 with theme Nutrition is the foundation for development. Nutrition is recognized as a basic human right. The following table shows the trend of intake of major food items (grams) over two decades. In terms of protein (legumes and animal foods), fruits and vegetables intake, we are far behind what is desirable.
Table 1: Per capita per day intake of major food items (grams)

Food Group








of which rice













Fruits and vegetables





















All animal foods (including milk and eggs)







Edible oils














Source: Bangladesh Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2016
Bangladesh has seen considerable progress in the reduction of malnutrition over the last two decades, yet levels of stunting and underweight are significantly higher than the WHO/CDC threshold level for emergencies, particularly for children and women of reproductive age (WRA). Severe food insecurity is also noted in the north-eastern and southern parts of the country. Diets provide around 70% of energy intake from cereals, reflective of poor dietary diversity, with a need for an increase in the consumption of non-cereal foods. Gender differences are noted in energy adequacy of diets, with women getting an average of 2000 kcal/d, while men are taking a little over 2500 kcal/day. Around 19% of adult women have chronic energy deficiency while 39% of women are overweight, reflective of the double burden of malnutrition in the adult population. Fifty-four percent of women have inadequate diets with less than four food groups out of nine, reflecting a pattern of inadequate dietary diversity. A little less than a fourth of infants and young children consume a minimum acceptable diet to supply recommended nutrition. Thirty-six percent of children under five years are considered to be short for their age or stunted. Rural children are more likely to be stunted than urban children (38 percent compared with 31 percent). Stunting is most prevalent in Sylhet (50%) and least prevalent in Khulna (28%). Children of mothers with no education are much more likely to be stunted (40%). The differentials across wealth quintiles are larger. Children whose mothers are in the lowest wealth quintile are two and a half times more likely to be stunted (50%) than children whose mothers are in the wealthiest quintile (21%). Fourteen percent of children are considered wasted or too thin for their height and three percent are severely wasted. Thirty-three percent of children under the age of five are underweight (low weight-for-age), and eight percent are severely underweight.
In Bangladesh, the agriculture sector has contributed strongly to increased production and economic growth over the past several decades and currently contributes to above 16% of the total GDP. However, improvements in nutrition indicators have not demonstrated the same rate of positive change. In many country contexts, it has been demonstrated that producing more food does not necessarily ensure improved nutrition. Nutrition sensitive agriculture explicitly incorporates nutrition objectives and indicators in agriculture and addresses the utilization dimension of food and nutrition security, including health, education, gender, economic, environmental and social aspects. In Bangladesh some models demonstrating best practices, particularly related to horticulture, have been scaled up and the technology has been transferred, showing progress towards sustainability project activities.
It is true that Agriculture affects food production. Good nutrition begins with good food, that is, food which is safe and sufficient in terms of quality and diversity provide all the individuals in a family with essential nutrients in appropriate amounts. Good food comes from agriculture, beginning with choices in production and cropping systems, and including processing and marketing as well. When production systems are designed with nutrition in mind, all four requirements for assuring Household food security, food availability, food access or affordability, utilization by all individuals in a Household, and stability of these dimension over time, including across “hungry” or “lean” seasons are more likely to be fulfilled. There are major challenges to making this new paradigm a reality. There is a lack of food based indicator to assess the impact of agricultural interventions on nutrition. There is the need to ensure that agricultural production continues to deliver safe and good quality foods for human consumption. Food safety has a direct impact on human health status. There are no reliable data sources that provide information on diet as well as agricultural production practices, market access, food prices, women’s empowerment, and all other indicator areas required to trace the causal pathway from agriculture to nutrition outcomes for individuals.
The primary role of agriculture, livestock, fisheries and food sectors is to increase the availability, affordability, accessibility and consumption of diverse, safe, culturally appropriate halal foods and diets using environment-friendly technologies. This starts with the promotion of diversified and integrated homestead gardening, small animal raising, aquaculture and fisheries production. Diversified, integrated home food production systems enable to resilience to climate and price shocks, seasonal food and income fluctuation and more gender equitable income generation. Many areas based, climate smart and innovative technologies will continue to be promoted including Floating Bed Agriculture, Hydroponic Gardening as well as area appropriate varieties of crops and will complement more established activities to scale up priority interventions to increase nutrition outcomes in this sector. To emphasize the safe and healthy fruits and vegetables production, biotechnology, pheromone trap, bagging, Integrated Pest Management (IPM), Integrated Crop Management (ICM), Good Agriculture Practice (GAP) etc. are being practiced to curb the utilization of chemical pesticides as much as possible. Floating bed agriculture is a method of growing crops upon prolonged submerged land, locally called Dhap (made of decomposed aquatic plants or water hyacinth. Environment friendly floating bed technique provides the opportunity to utilize natural resources, livelihood improvement along with ecological and nutritional benefits. This floating agriculture practice has been declared as the “Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)” of Bangladesh by FAO-UN in 2015.
Rice is the king crop in Bangladesh. Rice has high market demand by the rich and poor. It has low agricultural diversification. It is non-perishable and storing in the household is comparatively easier versus vegetables, fruits, meats, poultry etc. For better dietary diversity, the proportion of the diet comprised of rice must be reduced to 50%, while the remaining 50% of the plate should contain lentils, vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, chilly and lemon. It is important to have the remaining half of the plate filled from other food groups to improve dietary diversity, particularly to increase the intake of protein, vitamin A, zinc and iodine. The result has been found to be highly relevant during pregnancy.
Fair food prices for producers and affordable food for consumers hinges on accessibility of nutritious food. Bio-fortification is an important nutrition-sensitive approach which presents large potential for improving nutrition content of rice and lentils, but needs to be considered holistically with other interventions. A vitamin-A enriched rice which is called Golden Rice containing beta carotene is being newly innovation of Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) which are kept under field trial. Women’s empowerment affects their control of resources and decision making power on household food, health and care linked with household nutrition. Women play an active role in different nutrition sensitive interventions that includes homestead vegetables production, seed production, establishing nursery, bee keeping, food processing and storage and shrimp production which enable them to take up agricultural entrepreneurship to increase income and nutrition security.
A question is raised on the extent of overuse of pesticides within nutrition sensitive agriculture. Many farmers in the country use excessive amounts of pesticides in agricultural crop products in hope of boosting output. Department of Agriculture Extension is being given awareness to the farmers on safe use of pesticides in adequate amounts through different training program. Nutrition sensitive agriculture in an urban context is much potential. Roof top gardening are now popular in our country. Promotion and training in Good Hygiene Practices to ensure safer food from street vendors.
Nutrition and safe food production are now in top priority agenda in crop production system. Government emphasizes on the engagement of women in agriculture through homestead gardening, one house one farm program, providing loan and training, cash incentives, easy access to financial institutes, empowering through group approach. Food fortification enriched with vitamins, development of crop varieties enriched with zinc and iron are recent innovations. Now Bangladesh has moved towards the fruit production to strap up nutritional requirement through safe food along with food security. With this thrust of in fruit sector, the fruit production of the country has already reached in to 12.04 million metric tons in 2016-17.  Bangladesh has been ranked 7th in fruit production in world especially, the mango production which has also been marked as 7th position. Bangladesh is also 8th Position in guava and potato production in the world.
In Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture, Crop diversification has been a priority area of agricultural development. Initiatives have been taken to introduce various high value crops including vegetables, fruits, and flowers. With proper initiative by the government, Bangladesh acquired 3rd Position in growth of vegetables production. The country has increased the production of fruits and vegetables three times than previous two decades. Year-round fruit availability is considered a major breakthrough from the point of nutritional security.


 Bangladesh Agriculture: Challenges, Strategies, Innovation and Achievements, Ministry of Agriculture

Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture (NSA) Series-1 Bangladesh

Bangladesh Development Forum 2018, Partnering For Development, Economic Relations Division

Second National Plan of Action for Nutrition (2016-2025), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare