Micronutrient deficiency is a major public health problem in Bangladesh. Among all micronutrients, vitamin A deficiency affects an alarming percentage, despite ongoing supplementation programs. To address this problem, the USAID-AIN (Aquaculture for Income and Nutrition) project has intervened by introducing and promoting vitamin A-rich mola culture in homestead ponds. Mola (Amblypharyngodon mola) is a rich source of vitamin A, calcium, iron and zinc as well as animal protein. Only 17gm (6-7 big size) of mola is required to meet the daily need of vitamin A for under-5 children.
But even with the supply and availability of this valuable fish increasing, the key household consumption decision makers are finding it difficult to catch this fish on a daily basis. In Bangladesh, the available harvesting techniques are mostly accessible and usable by men for reasons that are socio-cultural and correspond to suitability and convenience. The whole process is therefore mostly dependent on male family members to harvest any fish, be it for consumption or for selling.
To overcome this problem, the USAID-AIN project has developed an improved harvesting tool that can be easily accessed and used by women to catch fish (especially micro-nutrient rich mola) for frequent consumption, without having to rely on male members to come home and catch for them.
This tool is the gill net, with a mesh size of 0.7 inch, costing BDT 238 per net and lasting up to two or three years. This net is convenient for women as they are able to catch fish from the banks of the pond and without exerting much physical pressure or spending much time. The net has been designed to help women overcome the barriers that prevent them from fully participating and enjoying the benefits from aquaculture, and to boost household consumption of mola.
Since 2015, the project has trained 155 female farmers (who had been previously trained on homestead pond polyculture including culture of mola along with nutritional education) on making the gill net and provided net making materials to them. Just after their training, they started to harvest mola regularly for household consumption and sell additional catches to neighbors at a reasonable price, which provides an additional income for the household.
To test the effectiveness of the gill net, a comparative study was conducted between two groups of people for six months from December to May. Out of 161 people involved, 95 people were using gill nets (group 1) and 66 were not using a gill net (group 2).
Study result shows that that the frequency of mola harvesting and consumption is 1.9 times higher in the gill net group compared to the non-gill net group. The average amount harvested by the gill net group was 71 gm (25 individual mola fish) over an average time of 103 minutes. The findings show that regular harvesting of mola with the gill net improved the family’s nutritional intake.
The project has found that farmers are satisfied with the gill net training and the provision of net-making materials. In farmers’ opinions, it has increased their household fish consumption noticeably. Although the quantity of harvested mola fish is not very high, the amount harvested daily is sufficient for their household consumption and is helping to meet the daily requirement of vitamin A, calcium, iron and animal protein for a child, which is essential for their physical and mental growth.