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Policy Brief. The unlocked potential of inland fish to contribute to improved nutrition in Sri Lanka









Athauda,S.;  Weerahewa,J.; Gonzalez,I.; Bouterakos, M. and Yanoma, Y.. 2019. The unlocked potential of inland fish to contribute to improved nutrition in Sri Lanka. FAO: Colombo, 12 p.


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    Over the past decades, food and dietary patterns in Pacific Island Countries have undergone significant changes. Traditional diets consisting of fresh fish, root crops, breadfruit and local fruits and vegetables have been increasingly replaced by imported, often highly processed foods such as white rice, flour, instant noodles, canned foods, fatty low grade meats and soft drinks with a high sugar content. At the same time, a more sedentary lifestyle is becoming common among many Pacific Islander s As a result, Pacific Island Countries now face a wave of dietary and lifestyle-related health problems. Chronic non-communicable diseases including diabetes, heart disease and cancer are now the main causes of death, illness and disability among adults in the Pacific Island Countries. Furthermore, countries are burdened by micro-nutrient deficiencies related to a lack of essential vitamins and minerals in the diet, such as vitamin A deficiency and anaemia. There is evidence that the tradit ional diet, lifestyles and food systems of the Pacific protected people in the past against these health problems. Food composition data provides scientific evidence of the rich nutrient content and health benefits of the traditional foods, including breadfruit, banana, taro, yam, cassava and sweet potato, as well as coconut, fish and seafood, and various fruits and vegetables.
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    Spirulina is a micro-algae and as such has been growing naturally in our environment for millions of years, it is a tough plant able to withstand harsh growing conditions, in fact the micro-algae cell never really dies it goes dormant when weather conditions are not favourable, and as soon as these change and the environment is once again suitable for growth, spirulina begins growing and reproducing again. Naturally growing spirulina can be found in high alkaline lakes and in general it is said that where flamingos are, spirulina is sure to be found. The Mexicans where the first to discover its wonderful health properties and in the 16th Century the Aztecs around Lake Texcoco were known to feature it on their dinner tables. In the 1940’s a French phycologist discovered spirulina to be growing in Africa; Lake Chad and the lakes of the Rift Valley in Eastern Africa were the main areas where spirulina thrived. The Kenembus tribe of Chad harvest the algae from the lake and dry it in the su n in a cake shape form, which is locally called “dihe”. This is sold to the markets and has become a staple diet for some of the communities living around Lake Chad. In a study on the correlation between poverty and malnutrition 10 countries were taken as examples. Of those 10 countries 9 were found to have a direct link between poverty and malnutrition – Chad was the only country that was poor but had no malnutrition. Modern day technology allows us to grow spirulina in man-made machines called Photo Bio-Reactors (PBR) – these machines are ideal to grow the algae in conditions where the natural habitat would otherwise not permit the cell to normally grow. Although briefly mentioned in this study PBRs are not ideal to grow and harvest spirulina in the ESA-IO region for primarily two reasons. Firstly the initial start-up costs are too high – and although most PBRs promise high yields in micro-algae production in reality only some are able to achieve those promises. Secondly most of the region is favourable to spirulina growth without the use of expensive machines and it can be cultured and harvested fairly easily in man-made basins and ponds. Spirulina is a highly nutritious natural substance, which has in recent years gained, once again, interest in both developing and developed countries. It is very in high protein content; yields 20 times more protein per acre than soybeans, 40 times more than corn, and over 200 times more than beef make it an ideal food supplement for ever yone. More awareness needs to be raised so that people understand what spirulina can do, its high protein, vitamin, mineral and micro-nutrient properties are good for both the ill (HIV/AIDS), malnourished children and infants and for the health conscious. In some cases spirulina has been incorrectly marketed as a medicine giving people, particularly the ill, false hope – in fact spirulina is a food supplement whose main benefit is the boosting of the immune system.
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    Overcoming malnutrition in all of its forms – caloric undernourishment, micronutrient deficiencies and obesity – requires a combination of interventions in different areas that guarantee the availability of and access to healthy diets. Among the key areas, interventions are required in food systems, public health systems and the provision of safe water and sanitation. This pocketbook not only focuses on indicators of food security and nutritional outcomes but also on the determinants that contri bute to healthy lives. The pocketbook is structured in two sections: Thematic spreads related to food security and nutrition, including detailed food consumption data collected from national household budget surveys; Comprehensive country and regional profiles with indicators categorized by anthropometry, nutritional deficiencies, supplementation, dietary energy supplies, preceded by their "setting". The setting provides demographic indicators as well as health status indicators based on mor tality patterns and the provision of safe water and sanitation. Anthropometry indicators provide information not only on the prevalence of acute and chronic forms of under-nutrition but also on the prevalence of obesity. Their co-existence is often referred to as the double burden of malnutrition. Nutritional deficiency indicators reveal food security issues at the national level based on the adequacy of energy supplies; they also reveal the prevalence of micronutrient deficiencies, often refe rred to as “hidden hunger”. Combined with anthropometric measurements, they allow for the identification of the triple burden of malnutrition (under-nutrition, obesity and hidden hunger). Regarding hidden hunger, indicators concerning iodine and vitamin A have been selected. Dietary indicators are based on national food supplies and inform on the overall quality of diets. Focus is also on the importance of diets during the first 1 000 days of an infant’s life, with indicators selected on the qu ality of breastfeeding, dietary diversity and meal frequency.

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