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Nutritional status of rural Bangladesh

Uttam Deb and Abdul Bayes | December 16, 2017 00:00:00

The Village Dynamics in South Asia (VDSA), under the umbrella of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), carried out a longitudinal study, spanning 2010/11 to 2014/15, on various socio-economic aspects among a sample of 500 rural households in 12 villages of 11 districts in Bangladesh. The interesting insights that sprang from the nutritional data generated by the surveys were presented in a seminar organised by Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia (LANSA).

It may be mentioned here that LANSA is a research programme operating in four countries of South Asia - Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The programme has been funded by UKaid (DFID). It mainly aims to explore the linkages between agriculture and nutritional status of people and also, how to realise the potential of agriculture in navigating through nutritional journey.

However, the broad objectives of the study by Uttam Deb and the present author was to analyse linkages between crop diversity, dietary diversity and nutritional outcomes in rural Bangladesh.

On cropping pattern, the survey found that more than 99 per cent of the total cropped area in the rainy season was under rice cultivation while more than 45 per cent of the total cropped area in the post-rainy season was under cultivation of non-rice crops. It thus appears that to whatever extent crop diversification is evidenced, it is in the non-rainy season which, in fact, is a historical fact. As far as diversity in crop production is concerned, as shown by the Simpson index, the researchers observed specialisation at the household level and diversity at the community and country level. It could further be gleaned that more than four-fifths of farmers produce up to three crops while about 70 per cent grow more than six crops.

About the determinants of crop diversity, it appears that: (a) total operated area positively contributed to the crop diversity, indicating larger farms had higher level of diversity; (b) adoption rate of modern varieties (%) had positive association with number of crops grown. Modern variety adopters had grown more crops than non-adopters and (c) education level of the household head (years) had contributed to increased diversity in crop production.

Food consumption data collected from repeated surveys show that average daily consumption level remained more or less the same across five years. Consumption of cereals depicted a marginal decline, but consumption of vegetables, potato, fruits, etc., marked significant increase over time. Again, consumption of these crops was relatively higher in case of producers than non-producers.

Consumption level depends on a number of factors. Per capita income of the household had highly significant positive association with food consumption level. Energy, carbohydrate, protein and fat intake of the household members were largely influenced by diet diversity score. Farm household dummy had significant positive association indicating that farm household had more food intake than other households.

The most disconcerting observation is that about one-third households experienced food deprivation. That is, average daily per capita consumption level was less than 1800 Kcal.

What has happened to the Dietary Diversity? There is good news on this score: (a) dietary diversity score has gradually increased over the years, (b) average dietary score increased from 8.2 in 2010/11 to 9.3 in 2014/15, (c) crop diversity (measured through Simpson Index as well as number of crops grown) contributed strongly to the dietary diversity, (d) increase in Simpson Index by one unit will lead to increase in dietary diversity by 0.39. On the other hand, one additional crop grown by the household will lead to increase in dietary diversity by 0.07, (e) per capita income of the household had highly significant positive association with dietary diversity at 1.0 per cent level of significance, (f) crop diversity has provided more options to choose food items to the growers and other households in the area, (g) income level has provided necessary purchasing power to buy diversified diet. Besides those factors, we also noticed that these two factors (crop diversity and income) have contributed positively towards dietary score of the same household members. Asset ownership of the households also contributed significantly to the dietary diversity. Remittances contributed to the significantly to the dietary diversity of the households at 1.0 per cent level of significance. Estimated value of the dummy variable for remittances revealed that remittances increased dietary diversity by 0.4 unit.

What has happened to the nutritional status as measured by Body Mass Index (BMI) - between 2010/11 and 2014/15? The number of underweight population has decreased while that of normal weight population, overweight population and obese population increased.

The findings of the study are:

* Specialisation in crop production at the household level and diversity in crop production at the combined level was observed

* Daily consumption level of all food items has increased except for cereals which have slightly decreased

* Average daily per capita consumption of food items by producer households was higher than that of non-producer household members

* Crop diversity, per capita income of the household, and education level of the household head had significant positive contribution to the dietary diversity score of the household

* Econometric analysis revealed that crop diversity level has direct influence on dietary diversity and, thereby, on the nutritional status of the individual.

* Per capita income also plays a vital role in determining the nutritional status of the household member

* This study provides empirical evidence about linkages between crop diversity, dietary diversity and nutritional status in rural Bangladesh.

Based on the research findings, we conclude that diversification in crop cultivation and related investments apparently contributed towards nutritional achievements in Bangladesh. Crop diversification should be promoted for further improvement in nutritional status in Bangladesh.

Md. Kaikobad Hossain, Secretary, Ministry of Food, who attended the seminar as chief guest. He assured that the government would take the findings from LANSA study into due cognisance while formulating food policy for the country.

Uttam Deb is a former researcher at ICRISAT. Abdul Bayes is a former Professor of Economics at Jahangirnagar University. abdul.bayes@brac.net

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