Speaking at the 'Aquaculture 2013: To the Next 40 Years of Sustainable Global Aquaculture' conference in Gran Canaria, Spain, Shakuntala Thislted, Worldfish, the '1000 days' project and discussed how aquaculture can contribute to giving children the best start in life and help raise a country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The '1000 days' project promotes good nutrition for mother and child during the first 1000 days of life. The period covers the nine months during pregnancy and the first 0-24 months.
The good health and nutrition of a woman during pregnancy and breastfeeding can be linked to eating nutritious fish.
Good nutrition from fish during pregnancy also leads to optimal birth weight, good brain development and generally sets the child off to a good start in life.
Similarly, it has been found that poor nutrition in early life can negatively impact the overall economic development of a country. Ms Thislted noted that improved nutrition can increase a country's GDP by two to three per cent a year.
In the first 1000 days of life, a child needs a variety of micro-nutrients, minerals and fats, which fish can help to deliver.
The amounts of nutrients and proteins in fish varies greatly by species, but small dried indigenous fish, when consumed whole, are one of the best ways to consume a concentrated amount of these important nutrients and they are also a good source of essential fats and DHA.
Although aquaculture has taken off in many less developed countries, the fish species farmed tend not to be these most nutritious indigenous species which can help improve the lives of many women and young children. Instead, they tend to be fish which have a high market demand.
In Bangladesh, for example, Mola is an indigenous fish that contains a very high amount of vitamin A, but the dominant farmed species in the country are tilapia and carp, which are less nutritious but are farmed because they have a higher market value.
Aquaculture therefore needs to start working to increase the consumption of nutrient rich fish, ensure year round availability of these fish and ensure that these fish are accessible to women, said Ms Thislted.
Pond production technologies need to be addressed in order to help many families farm not only fish for market, but also fish, such as molar, for consumption at home. This would enable the mother and children to always have access year round, and it would also make the fish more affordable.
Governments should also work on stocking these nutritional fish in the country's lakes, rivers and wetlands, to ensure a good supply national supply.
An innovative integrated aquaculture nutrition approach is therefore needed, Ms Thislted concluded.