Odisha to introduce fish in nutrition programme of children and pregnant women

The Odisha government signed an MoU with international non-profit organisation World Fish on Tuesday for a pilot programme to include fish and fish-based products in the supplementary nutrition programme for children, pregnant and nursing women and adolescent girls at 50 Anganwadi centres of Mayurbhanj district.

The technical collaboration between the Odisha government and World Fish would run for five-years, Development Commissioner Suresh Mohapatra said.

“Such innovation will go a long way in accelerating nutrition status in the state. Fish are commonly eaten by tribal communities and are culturally appropriate animal-source food,” said Mohapatra.

Gareth Johnstone, director general of World Fish said technical experts from the NGO would support women SHGs in preparation of fish powder with help of Central Institute of Fisheries Technology, Cochin.

Small fish like Indian Anchovy, Indian Sardine and lesser sardine would be given to the beneficiaries in powder form or in packets after being dried.

Officials said the pilot study dovetails into the Odisha Nutrition Action Plan that outlines a multi-sectoral approach to reducing malnutrition. The ONAP launched in 2016, puts a special focus on reducing malnutrition among women and children from hard to reach tribal districts as well as high rates of stunting and underweight within these populations.

At present, Odisha government is giving take home ration as well as hot cooked meals to children, pregnant and lactating women and adolescent girls under supplementary nutrition programme funded by Centre. Under take home ration, chhatua (a powder of roasted Bengal gram, wheat, groundnut and sugar), suji halwa, maize halwa, ragi halwa, jaggery laddoo, besan laddoo are given. Apart from this 3-4 boiled eggs are given to the beneficiaries every week while children are given hot cooked meals at the anganwadi centres. Fruits such as banana, papaya, guava, pineapple, watermelon, mango, orange and local berries are also given to children.

But despite the nutrition programme, 47% of children from tribal-dominated districts in Odisha are stunted. That figure is higher than the national average of 38%. Officials said fish, especially small fish eaten whole, would be a rich source of nutritious animal-source food. Studies have shown that Omega-3 fatty acids in fish promote brain growth and eye health, vitamin B12 leads to healthy red blood cells and prevents anemia. Iron and zinc in fishes prevent iron-deficiency and help faster recovery from diarrhoea.

The pilot project would integrate fish-based products into the diets of pregnant and lactating women, adolescent girls and children of tribal villages and determine the nutritional potential of adding fish to meals. While 15 gram of fish powder would be added to the daily curry of children at anganwadi centre, dried small fish would be given to the adolescent girls and pregnant women as part of take home ration. The fish powder and dried fish would be sourced from CIFT, Cochin.

Women SHGs in the coastal fishing villages will also be trained for seeking business opportunities in solar dried fish and fish powder following food safety standards.

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