WorldFish, an international research organization that harnesses fisheries and aquaculture to reduce hunger and poverty has commended the Zambian government for formulating and implementing policies in the fisheries sector that are contributing to improving nutrition and economic development in the country.
Director for Aquaculture and Fisheries Sciences Michael Phillips says he is pleased to see that the policies being implemented in Zambia are contributing to his organisations mission to strengthen livelihoods and enhance food and nutrition security by improving the fisheries and aquaculture.
Dr. Phillips disclosed that for the past 3 years WorldFish has been seeking to develop and secure sustainable systems of fish supply and design policies and practices that can help partner countries improve the impact that fish can have on national development and Zambia’s performance has been remarkable.
He says the role of fish in the food systems is critical and significant investment is needed to grow the fisheries sector.
‘It is pleasing to see how the policy attention to fish in Zambia has grown substantially with significant new private sector investment as well as growing donor and investment attention’ Dr. Phillips said.
Dr. Phillips was speaking at a workshop dubbed ‘nutrition-sensitive fish agri-food systems in Zambia’ at Protea hotel in Lusaka organised by WorldFish.
He however said that while there is a lot of private sector attention on aquaculture, there are also opportunities for sustaining small-scale fisheries that need attention.
‘We know that fish especially the small species from wild capture fisheries are critically important for the poor, and sustaining those needs to be a policy and investment priority’ Dr Phillips said.
He said while there is an increasing recognition of the role of fish from our inland waters and oceans as a highly nutritious food, more needs to be done for it to be grown in ways that are ‘food system friendly’.
Dr Phillips says fish has also become more prominent in global policies with the World Resources Institute putting fish in its “top 5 menu for creating a sustainable food future”.
And WorldFish research programme leader in charge of value chains and nutrition at WorldFish, Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted defines nutrition sensitive fish agri-food systems as approaches that look at expanding the production and consumption of quality food that contain the essential micronutrients responsible for human growth and development.
Dr. Thilsted says in the 1960’s there was a lot of emphasis on large scale food production to end world hunger which led to success in the large quantity production of food especially staples like cereals.
‘While great strides were made to increase the quantity of food and end hunger, there was however need to increase the quality of food to address micro nutrient deficiency levels which lead to malnutrition’ Dr Thilsted said.
She says fish especially the small species like Kapenta (Limnothrissa moiden), Chisense (Potamothrissa acutirosis), Mishipa (Barbus) and Inkundu (Pseudocrenilabrus philandey) are extremely rich in essential micronutrients like vitamins and minerals vital for growth and cognitive (brain) development of the human beings especially children.
Dr. Thilsted says other foods like fruits and vegetables also contain nutrients but small fish contain multiple nutrients because they are consumed as a whole, from head to tail without removing anything.
‘When you eat small fish you absorb much more nutrients, you multiply up the effects of micronutrients by a factor of 4’ she said.
Dr Thilsted says plans for micro nutrient foods such as small fish must be put in place if nations are to address micronutrient deficiencies.
‘If you can combat micronutrient deficiency, there will be both individual and national development as intellectual performance will improve and productivity because there will be few sick people. If you have a well nourished people, you also grow economically’, Dr Thilsted added.
Meanwhile WorldFish country director for Zambia and Southern Africa Victor Siamudaala says 20 households have been targeted to benefit in Luwingu district in Northern Province under the pilot nutrition sensitive systems programme.
Dr. Siamudaala says 33 people were trained and 20 polyculture ponds have been established and stocked with 4 different micronutrient rich small indigenous fish species.
He says WorldFish started piloting the nutrition sensitive programme in Asia to address the challenges of high malnutrition levels.
‘Following the successes of the programme in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia and India, WorldFish decided to replicate it here in Zambia where stunting, a measure of malnutrition, is 35 percent, Dr Siamudaala said.
Dr. Siamudaala disclosed that the stunting levels in Luwingu are currently at 43 percent and is hopeful that through the nutrition sensitive initiative, malnutrition levels will be reduced especially in women and children.
‘We have been collecting data on fish consumption for the past 6 months and the results are promising especially in the first 1000 days of life, He said’.
Apart from the nutrition sensitive programme, WorldFish is supporting Zambia to revise the curriculum for fisheries and aquaculture at the Natural Resources Development College (NRDC) in Lusaka and Kasaka Fisheries Training Institute in Kafue.
WorldFish has constructed infrastructure to support learning such as hatcheries, ponds and Electronic Learning laboratories at NRDC.
Other support to the fisheries sector include developing business models for women and youth in the fish value chain as well as the providing technical support under the Zambia Aquaculture Enterprise Development Programme to do genetic improvement on the Kafue bream.
WorldFish has also partnered with The University of Zambia (UNZA) in its research on the role of small fish species in the nutriton of reproductive women and children under the age of five.
Dr. Pamela Marinda a lecture in the department of food sciences and nutrition at UNZA says keys findings reveal that there are high proportions of nutrient inadequacies in women and children compared to men.
Dr. Marinda says despite fish being the highest consumed animal protein in most households, women and children had nutrient inadequacies of vitamin A, niacin, vitamin B12, zinc and iron.
‘Although families consumed fish, the quantities are not adequate to meet the recommended daily allowances as proposed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Food Organisation, Dr Marinda said.
Dr Marinda however said that there was an association between the quantity of fish consumed and the nutrition status of children.
‘Children who eat fish have a higher height to age, this means that children who consume fish are less likely to be stunted’ she noted.
Dr. Marinda recommends that other than just consuming fish, the amounts or quantity of fish matters.
‘fathers must not be the only ones eating the whole or bigger chunks of fish, children and mothers equally deserve the required quantities’ Dr. Marinda said.
She says government’s effort must be supported in its diversification agenda to improve dietary diversity and health diets in the country.