University of Stirling (Aquaculture)

Aquatic Food for Health and Nutrition (AQN): A metric for assessing the impacts on nutrition and health of agroecosystems producing farmed seafood

PI: David Little
Start date: 14 December 2016
Duration: 24 months
Value: £247,368
Countries of research: Bangladesh, Cambodia and UK

Project summary

Aquaculture is among the fastest growing food production sectors in many Low and Medium Income Countries (LMIC) with aquatic eco-zones, and yet the specific impact on nutrition and livelihood in local communities where commercial and/or export-orientated aquaculture activities are developed, is largely unknown. The agro-ecological dynamic is complex in a coastal-estuarine zone where the aquatic environment range from marine to freshwater, with seasonal and annual fluctuations in freshwater supply, creating a variable salinity gradient which impact on aquatic food production, and on food production more generally. The local communities in these dynamic aquatic eco-zones are vulnerable to poverty and poor health and nutrition, while these ecosystems also produce highly valuable and nutritious aquatic foods. Policies addressing the specific challenges of risk management of these communities is limited by the sectoral separation of aquatic food production – the fisheries and aquaculture sector - and health, means there is a disconnect between professionals on all levels responsible for fisheries and aquaculture, and those tasked to support public health and nutrition initiatives.

The aim of the project is to develop an integrated metric for the impact of access to aquatic foods on health and nutrition – the Aquatic Food for Health and Nutrition (AQN) that will inform better, more integrated policy and practice in the development of farmed aquatic systems. The objectives are (i) to develop the metric in southwest Bangladesh from previously collected data complemented by supplementary primary data collection, and validate it using data from Cambodia; (ii) evaluate and validate the metric to determine its capability to adequately assess the linkages between aquatic agroecosystem and the well-being and nutritional status of vulnerable individuals, with adolescent girls as focal group; iii) integrating perceptions and experience of local practitioners and stakeholders with measured indicators.

Methodology: Both the conceptual basis and methodology used to develop the metric are innovative in that they combine agro-ecological and well-being descriptors with nutritional indicators (anthropometric and biomarkers). The metric will be based on primary and secondary across aquatic food supply chains i.e. including production, governance and the health and nutrition status. An econometric model based on the statistical relationships between food production/access/nutrient intake and nutritional outcomes with focus on adolescent girls (nutritional status, reproductive outcomes and birth outcomes) will be built using standard regression analysis and principle components analysis, as well a female autonomy score. Results will be incorporated into a risk-based prediction algorithm to identify individuals and households at increased risk of poorer outcomes. The metric will be developed using a participatory process (participatory workshops) that is informed by both value-chain analysis concepts and conventional health economics. This should allow integration between upstream (agroecosystem/production system) and downstream components (nutrition and health).

Outcome: The AQN metric will be communicated to stakeholders at all levels, to support more integrated policy and practice in the development of farmed aquatic systems which contribute to improved nutrition and health of the local communities.