Ensuring safety and security of food for improving the nutrition status is not a job of a single body. Coordination of the work of multiple actors is needed for the ecosystem, say stakeholders.

Both policymaking bodies and implementing authorities need to work collaboratively to uplift the people’s nutrition status, they noted at a roundtable held in the capital on Saturday. 

The event, titled “Creating nutrition vital city: Role of multisectoral platforms”, was jointly organised by Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA), a Swiss-based non-profit international development organisation, and the country’s leading business newspaper The Business Standard. 

Md Farhad Zamil, country director of SFSA Bangladesh, said better coordination between the city corporation authorities and food safety authorities can bring about a major change in ensuring food safety. 

Dr Hasan Shahriar Kabir, director general of Bangladesh National Nutrition Council, said there should be nutritional plans in urban slums to address the nutritional status in urban areas. 

“We already have some programmes that we need to expedite,” he stated, adding that nutrition is not about food; actually, it is a complete package of life. 

Abdul Kayoum Sarkar, chairman of Bangladesh Food Safety Authority, in his comments said there are around 18 organisations that have been working on safe and nutritious food. 

“But we have now taken initiatives to bring all the organisations on a single platform and enhance coordination among them,” he said. 

Talking about city dwellers’ food vulnerable situation, Abdul Kayoum Sarkar said “Generally, city people play a role of consumers, not producers. So, if food gets contaminated in the supply chain, it is quite tough to make it safe again at the consumer end.” 

Recommending making the food supply chain shorter and simpler, he said, “In European countries, food and agricultural products directly come to markets or shops from producers. But, here in Bangladesh, we have multi-layers in the supply chain, which chain needs to be shortened.”  

The roundtable is part of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation’s “Nutrition in City Ecosystems” project, which was initiated in Bangladesh in August 2021. 

Helen Prytherch, head of Health System Unit of Swiss TPH, made a presentation briefing the project. 

Presenting a keynote at the roundtable, Hamidul Haque Khan, chief executive officer of HK Consulting, said the degree of malnutrition among urban dwellers is more severe than in their rural counterparts. 

“If you live in a city, you turn right or left in stores, be it in a super shop or a small vendor shop. You end up with what you find on the shelves,” he said. 

“We, all inhabitants of cities, are either helpless or vulnerable.”  

Talking about the role of multi-sectoral platforms in creating a nutrition vital city, Hamidul Haque Khan said all stakeholders in society have their own strengths and weaknesses. 

“We have to tap those strengths and create collaboration among all the stakeholders,” he added. 

Authorities such as the Ministry of Food, Directorate of Food, Ministry of Social Welfare, Ministry of Women and Children Affairs and Ministry of Commerce are key stakeholders responsible for making healthy diets affordable. 

Recommending the way out for nutrition vital cities, he said collaboration among government ministries and agencies is a must for developing a policy framework for an urban food system.

Speaking as a panellist, Khondakar Golam Moazzem, research director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, said since Bangladesh is graduating to a developing country, it also needs to have a transition in terms of food intake from the food security and safety point of view.

Regarding stakeholders’ coordination, he suggested that the food and agriculture ministries also coordinate with local and international non-governmental organisations. 

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is working on the Dhaka food system project to develop the capital’s food agenda 2041 by mapping the city’s food system and challenges.  

Xavier Bouan, senior technical adviser (Food System) at FAOBD, said it does not belong to one ministry or organisation, but rather multiple stakeholders are engaged in the chain.   

Md Abdul Wadud, executive director at the Bangladesh Institute of Research and Training on Applied Nutrition of the Ministry of Agriculture, said that despite self-sufficiency in all sorts of food except milk, favourability is an issue for nutrition. 

“The government, however, is trying to cover this by its safety net programme, which is also not enough to cover all the people,” he said. 

Md Shahid Uddin Akbar, chief executive director of Bangladesh Institute of ICT in Development, said there are complexities in the ecosystem behind ensuring a nutrition diet. 

“We need to change the ecosystem with the behaviour 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 at the University of Dhaka and Md Eyamin, staff correspondent of The Business Standard, spoke at the programme.  

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