Tackling malnutrition for a better Bangladesh

Since joining the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement in 2012, the People’s Republic of Bangladesh has been resolutely committed to addressing the nutritional needs of their population. Now, with 137 private sector members and a dynamic, enthusiastic team working with the Country Coordinator, Syed Muntasir Ridwan, the Bangladesh SUN Business Network (SBN) has an impressive array of initiatives underway to tackle its agenda. The network’s efforts to eradicate micronutrient deficiencies and ensure safe, affordable nutrition for all Bangladeshis are both broad and multi-faceted, including education programmes, support for SMEs, and multi-sectoral partnerships.

‘Nutrition sensitive’ communication is key

Improving nutrition is critical in Bangladesh, where child stunting is at 31%1, anaemia in women is almost 40%and the prevalence of being classed as overweight and obese in adolescents and adults is high. SBN Bangladesh aims to address these complex problems through food fortification, food safety, nutrition education, and sustainable agriculture. For example, the network has identified the consumption of loose, unpackaged food products, such as oil and salt, as a serious risk to food safety. Without packaging, there is no traceability or testability to ensure the products are safe for consumers. In addition, while the Government already mandates the fortification of multiple food products, compliance requirements with regards to loose products is low due to the lack of accountability.

Photo: SBN Bangladesh

However, SBN Bangladesh aims to use communication as the key strategy to overcome such challenges, as many individuals do not even consider the effect their diet has on their overall health and wellbeing and are not informed about the risks associated with a poor diet. The network uses multiple channels for its communication strategies, including promotional videos targeted at different groups, such as adolescents and varying socioeconomic sectors, to grow awareness of nutrition and healthy diets. The network also produces promotional materials and uses social media to raise awareness of traditional nutritious food and to expand their reach. To aid individuals, businesses and organisations in consuming and producing nutritious, safe food products, SBN Bangladesh is also working to produce a food safety handbook and nutrition guidelines, which they hope to have ready for distribution in April/May 2021.

Supporting SMEs

Photo: SBN Bangladesh

Another particular focus of SBN Bangladesh is the development and promotion of its SME members. The network aims to build the capacity of these enterprises and support them to showcase their innovations by providing them with opportunities to interact with investors, such as annual investor evenings, and producing short videos highlighting the entrepreneurs’ work and their aspirations.

In addition, SBN Bangladesh is building a SME platform at the sub-national level through their partnership with the National Association of Small and Cottage Industries, Bangladesh (NASCIB) and the Chamber of Commerce. At the end of 2020, this partnership hosted five workshops, each with 23-30 SMEs and 20 stakeholders in attendance, to better understand how the SMEs were affected by COVID, their general challenges, and to demonstrate their options for growth and development. By facilitating this communication between the enterprises and stakeholders, the workshops served to promote understanding of what additional support SMEs need to grow and move forward.

Photo: SBN Bangladesh

The entrepreneurs involved saw this as a unique opportunity for growth, to sustainably expand their market to benefit both their own businesses and the consumers by improving their products’ nutritional value. The group of entrepreneurs most engaged with this effort were women, many of whom have ambitious plans for their enterprises and the impact they could have on nutrition in their communities. As such, the network aimed to have at least 50% women entrepreneurs as SBN members in the sub-national SBN committees. The network is also working to develop a women-only community within SBN Bangladesh to promote gender equality and address the specific challenges female entrepreneurs face, such as access to finance and safety concerns in transporting their own products.

Progress for now and the future

The true measure of progress is sustainability. As such, SBN Bangladesh is

Photo: SBN Bangladesh

committed to ensuring that its efforts build a solid foundation for ending all forms of hunger and micronutrient deficiencies.   This goal is at the heart of SBN Bangladesh’s partnerships with key stakeholders. For example, the network’s partnership with the Ministry of Industries facilitates the connection of SBN members with relevant ministries and civil societies who are well-positioned to provide long-term support and technical assistance. Similarly, through their work with other government agencies, such as the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) and Bangladesh National Nutrition Council (BNNC), the network can encourage policy-level advocacy and ensure open access to any material produced, such as the food safety and nutrition guidelines.

Photo: SBN Bangladesh

As well as strategic partnerships with NASCIB, the Chamber of Commerce BFSA and BNNC, SBN Bangladesh is working with other institutions to reach out to sub-national SMEs in the food and beverage industry. These include the Institute of Nutrition and Food Science (INFS) at Dhaka University and Bangladesh Agriculture University’s (BAU) Food Engineering Department. These collaborations are working to mainstream knowledge of food safety and nutrition, and help to ensure that SBN Bangladesh’s nutrition initiatives are widely implemented and sustainable. In addition, involving these organisations in project development helps in building the capacity and skillset of the organisations themselves.

These partnerships take different forms. For example, SBN Bangladesh is training INFS graduates in implementing their knowledge and connecting them with SMEs to serve as technical service hubs, and BAU graduates are being trained to serve as conduits between the university and SMEs to provide valuable technical assistance.

Working hard for progress

Explained best by SBN Bangladesh’s Coordinator, Syed Muntasir Ridwan, “SBN Bangladesh aims to make nutrition ‘aspirational’ among businesses and consumers, along with shaping a food system that leads to economic, health and environmental sustainability”. This determination of the people behind the network’s numerous initiatives, and their ambitious agenda for the future of their country and its inhabitants, are sure to drive their success in the years to come.

1  BDHS 2016

2  BDHS 2011