A gendered approach to nutrition-sensitive homestead pond polyculture

Shakuntala Thilsted -

A woman holds mola caught from her pond in Jessore, Bangladesh.

A recent paper, “Homestead pond polyculture can improve access to nutritious small fish”, published in the journal Food Security investigates an aquaculture production system in Bangladesh which is tailored towards improving nutrition and is accessible to and can be managed by women.

In Bangladesh, and many parts of rural South Asia, women’s movements outside the homestead are restricted and they spend much time at home taking care of children and other family members, food preparation and other household chores. Access to nutritious foods in these households can be limited, resulting in poor diets and little dietary diversity which can contribute to undernutrition.

A nutrition-sensitive approach to homestead pond polyculture, engaging both women and men has been introduced by WorldFish and partners. This includes polyculture of small and large fish species in homestead ponds, vegetable production in homestead gardens and on pond dykes, nutrition education and gender equity, in terms of work load and food distribution. This approach allows for increased household income from the sale of produce as well as increased access to and intake of nutrient-rich small fish and vegetables, with focus on women and children in the first 1,000 days of life.

Different modes and methods were applied to engage both female and male household members. Women and men, in groups of 20-25 received training in fish and vegetable production, nutrition and gender equity. Lead farmers, both women and men conducted training and supported the households in the activities. In some cases, women were specifically trained in harvesting small amounts of small fish for household consumption and in preparing dishes with nutrient-rich small fish for young children.

A woman cooking mola curry in her kitchen in Jessore, Bangladesh.

A woman cooking mola curry in her kitchen in Jessore, Bangladesh.

The paper describes that homestead pond polyculture, with small and large fish, using a nutrition-sensitive approach can have outstanding nutrition and health benefits, especially for women and young children. For adoption of the nutrition-sensitive pond polyculture approach, engaging all household members and providing both women-only training and combined women and men training should be applied. Women were engaged in pond polyculture, spending up to 25 minutes per day on tasks such as fish feeding, pond preparation and maintenance. Lead female farmers described that their physical mobility in the community gave them a better status and a feeling of being valued.

An analysis of the dynamics and power relations between women and men with regard to work load and income earned from nutrition-sensitive pond polyculture is needed to gauge how this approach impacts women’s status within the household and in the community. Strong partnerships with the nutrition and health sector, government organisations and the private sector will ensure quality training of household members and wide dissemination of this aquaculture production system.

This blog post, by Shakuntala Thilsted and Sarah Castine, first appeared on the Gender in Aquaculture and Fisheries website. It is republished here with permission.

Shakuntala Thilsted

Shakuntala Thilsted

Dr. Shakuntala Thilsted is the Global Lead for Nutrition and Public Health, Aquatic Food Systems at WorldFish and Vice Chair of the UN Food System Summit 2021, Action Track 4: Advance Equitable Livelihoods. Prior to joining WorldFish in 2010, she worked at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. She has more than 25 years’ experience in research and has published many refereed articles on food and nutrition security in low- and middle-income countries. Shakuntala holds a PhD from The Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University in Denmark.

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