Ensuring food safety and security to improve nutritional status is not the task of a single body. Coordination of the work of several actors is needed for the ecosystem, say stakeholders.
Both political bodies and executive agencies must work together to raise the nutritional status of the people, they noted at a round table discussion held in the capital on Saturday.
The event, titled “Creating nutrition vital city: Role of multisectoral platforms”, was jointly organized by the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA), a Swiss-based non-profit international development organization, and the country’s leading business magazine The Business Standard.
Md Farhad Zamil, country director of SFSA Bangladesh, said that better coordination between the city’s corporate and food safety authorities can make a big difference in ensuring food safety.
Dr Hasan Shahriar Kabir, Director General of Bangladesh National Nutrition Council, said there should be nutrition plans in urban slums to address the nutritional status in urban areas.
“We already have some programs that we need to accelerate,” he said, adding that nutrition is not about food; in fact, it is a complete package of life.
Abdul Kayoum Sarkar, chairman of the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority, said in his remarks that there are about 18 organizations that have been working on safe and nutritious food.
“However, we have now taken initiatives to bring all organizations on a single platform and improve coordination between them,” he said.
Talking about the food vulnerability of urban dwellers, Abdul Kayoum Sarkar said, “Generally, urban people play a role as consumers, not producers. So if food gets contaminated in the supply chain, it’s quite difficult to make it safe again for the consumer. The end.”
Recommending making the food supply chain shorter and simpler, he said: “In European countries, food and agricultural products come directly to markets or stores from producers. But here in Bangladesh, we have several layers in the supply chain, which the chain needs to be shortened.”
The roundtable discussions are part of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation’s project “Nutrition in City Ecosystems”, which was initiated in Bangladesh in August 2021.
Helen Prytherch, Head of the Health System Unit at the Swiss TPH, made a presentation that reviewed the project.
Delivering a keynote at the roundtable, Hamidul Haque Khan, managing director of HK Consulting, said the rate of malnutrition among urban dwellers is more severe than that of their rural counterparts.
“If you live in a city, you turn right or left in stores, whether it’s a superstore or a small vendor store. You get what you find on the shelves,” he said.
“We, all urban dwellers, are either helpless or vulnerable.”
Talking about the role of multi-sectoral platforms in creating an economically vibrant city, Hamidul Haque Khan said that all stakeholders in society have their own strengths and weaknesses.
“We need to leverage these strengths and create collaboration among all stakeholders,” he added.
Authorities such as the Ministry of Food, the Directorate of Food, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of Women and Children and the Ministry of Commerce are key players responsible for making healthy diets affordable.
He recommended the way out for nutritionally important cities, saying that collaboration between government departments and agencies is a must to develop a policy framework for an urban food system.
As a panelist, Khondakar Golam Moazzem, research director of the Center for Policy Dialogue, said that as Bangladesh graduates to a developing country, it must also have a transition in terms of food intake from a food safety and security point of view.
In terms of stakeholder coordination, he suggested that the ministries of food and agriculture also coordinate with local and international NGOs.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is working with the Dhaka Food Systems Project to develop the capital’s Food Agenda 2041 by mapping the city’s food systems and challenges.
Xavier Bouan, Senior Technical Advisor (Food System) at FAOBD, said it does not belong to one ministry or organization, but rather multiple stakeholders are engaged in the chain.
Md Abdul Wadud, executive director of the Bangladesh Institute of Research and Training on Applied Nutrition at the Ministry of Agriculture, said that despite self-sufficiency in all kinds of food except milk, amenity is a matter of nutrition.
“However, the government is trying to cover this through its safety net program, which is also not enough to cover all people,” he said.
Md Shahid Uddin Akbar, executive director of the Bangladesh Institute of ICT in Development, said there is complexity in the ecosystem behind ensuring a nutritious diet.
“We need to change the ecosystem with the behavior and adoption of a healthy lifestyle,” he also said.
Among others, SB Naseem, Managing Director of Winall Hitcech Seed BD Ltd; Dr Khaleda Islam, Director of the Institute of Nutrition and Food Science, University of Dhaka and Md Eyamin, Staff Correspondent of The Business Standard, spoke at the programme.