From Ponds to Plates: Enhancing Nutrition through Fish Consumption in Bihar, India

6 minutes read
  • Bihar's ponds offer a unique solution to malnutrition, supporting small-scale fisheries for economic growth and enhanced food security.
  • WorldFish and MicroSave Consulting (MSC), in partnership with the Bihar government, empower women-led fish-producing groups, addressing both supply and demand sides for sustainable nutrition.
  • Innovative strategies include pond-based livelihoods, and engaging social behavior change (SBCC) activities to improve dietary diversity, address malnutrition, and improve nutrition outcomes for the state.

The Indian state of Bihar has a distinctive advantage for addressing its nutrition challenges: its ponds. The state is dotted with water bodies that can support small-scale fisheries development, a promising strategy that can improve livelihoods and simultaneously combat malnutrition and enhance food security. The state envisions a holistic development model that leverages its aquatic ecosystems for economic growth and social well-being. The ponds provide a unique opportunity to make routine fish consumption more accessible and affordable for people living in these communities. Currently, the state’s fish consumption falls notably below both international and national averages. According to the OECD & FAO's 2019-20 estimate, the global per capita fish consumption is 20.5 kg, whereas Bihar records a mere 9.6 kg per capita. This disparity extends beyond international standards to compare unfavorably with peer states in India, including Jharkhand, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh. This lower-than-average consumption is significant considering the nutritional powerhouse that fish represents, rich in high-quality protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and essential vitamins and minerals.

Per capita fish consumption chart
Figure 1:Per capita fish consumption in Bihar and peer states


Although the state has made significant progress in reducing malnutrition. Stunting affects a staggering 42.9% of children under 5, surpassing the national average. Additionally, 41% of Bihar's children are underweight. Anemia is prevalent, impacting 69.4% of children and 63.5% of women in the 15-49 age group, indicating widespread health concerns. Paradoxically, 2.4% of children under 5 and 15.9% of women face obesity issues. These statistics underscore the urgency of addressing nutritional deficiencies in Bihar.

World Fish and MSC (MicroSave Consulting) in collaboration with the Government of Bihar’s Rural Livelihood Promotion Society - JEEVIKA  is providing technical support to empower women-led fish-producing groups (FPGs), presenting a promising pathway. These efforts enhance economic prospects and hold the key to mitigating Bihar's persistent nutritional challenges. The state's proactive approach to promoting fisheries aligns with the imperative need to counteract the multifaceted nutritional concerns, ensuring a healthier future for its communities.

The role of fish for better health outcomes

In Bihar, integrating fish into dietary habits represents a significant avenue for improving nutritional intake especially for adolescent girls, pregnant women, and young children. However, various challenges, including limited access to fresh fish due to limited availability, cost, nutrition literacy, and cultural beliefs, have been identified through our interactions with women fish-producing groups (WFPGs) in the region. Pushpa Devi, one of the senior FPG member’s we spoke to said,

“Small children can’t eat fish due to sharp bones present in it. Moreover, till the time the child’s head is not shaved (tonsuring ceremony), the mother is not allowed to eat any non-vegetarian food items.”

In our concerted efforts to enhance nutrition outcomes in Bihar, WorldFish and MSC have developed a comprehensive strategy that addresses both the supply and demand sides of the nutritional equation. Collaborating with the Bihar Government, the initiative recognizes the multifaceted nature of nutritional challenges. This holistic approach encompasses boosting fish availability through fisheries activities and delving into the intricate fabric of nutritional literacy and cultural dynamics. By engaging with women-led fish-producing groups (FPGs) and creating a cadre of 'Matasya Sakhis'  (a local designation of the village level fisheries extension worker in Bihar) for support, we aim to foster a sustainable and impactful nutritional transformation in Bihar.

Figure 2: Nutrition from fish (UN Nutrition, 2021)
Figure 2: Nutrition from fish (UN Nutrition, 2021)


On the supply side, substantial progress has been achieved through fisheries activities in 118 ponds across 112 village organizations. Technical support is extended to each FPG, encompassing crucial aspects like pond maintenance, polyculture, small fish (Mola) introduction, and establishing linkages with markets. This comprehensive approach has created livelihood opportunities for approximately 80,000 households and has also reduced the farming period in intervention ponds to four months from a year, allowing for 2-3 additional farming cycles annually. More than 200 individuals have received training, with 142 successfully establishing themselves as fish vendors in nearby markets, further contributing to the local economy.

Simultaneously, innovative strategies on the demand side aim to revolutionize nutritional awareness. Initiatives include SBCC activities such as leaflets, brochures, and audio-visuals for step-by-step guidance on preparing fish powder and paste for safe consumption by children. Periodic training on nutrition education is being provided and has led to a notable 10% rise in fish consumption within WFPG families.

These endeavors foster a culture of informed nutritional choices within the communities served. Moreover, a commitment to nutrition literacy extends to impactful residential training programs for 'Matasya Sakhis.' This specialized cadre plays a pivotal role in supporting FPGs on both supply and demand aspects. The training sessions range from technical intricacies and gender perspectives to comprehensive insights into nutrition. Emphasis is placed on the significance of a balanced diet, the importance of food diversity, and the inclusion of small fish like pothia and mola, among others. These trained individuals become key facilitators in disseminating nutritional knowledge within their communities.

Figure 3: Engaging with WFPGs to generate awareness on nutritional benefits of fish
Figure 3: Engaging with WFPGs to generate awareness on nutritional benefits of fish


In addition to these initiatives, Information, Education, and Communication (IEC) materials are crucial to the strategy.  Posters, banners, and pamphlets are  designed to target specific groups, including FPGs, fish vendors, and community members. These materials provide essential information and practical guidance, including recipes for fish powder and paste preparation. The dissemination of these IEC materials further amplifies the ease with which fish-based nutrition can be incorporated into children's diets, contributing to the broader goal of addressing Bihar's persistent nutritional challenges.

Way forward

The program envisions a deeper geographic expansion, extending into surrounding districts, targeting areas with greater density of ponds and elevated malnutrition prevalence. This extension will deepen the impact, empowering additional communities with sustainable livelihood opportunities and access to nutritious fish. Simultaneously, community engagement programs are pivotal, addressing cultural barriers, dispelling myths, and promoting the nutritional benefits of fish consumption. This targeted awareness campaign aims to instigate a positive shift in community attitudes towards fish as a valuable dietary component.

To scale up the impact, the focus remains on expanding the Matasya Sakhis program, creating a larger cadre equipped with knowledge to support Women-Led Fish Producing Groups (WFPGs) on both the supply and demand sides. Leveraging technology will play a crucial role in integrating digital solutions, such as mobile applications or SMS-based platforms, providing real-time information and support to FPGs and community members. This approach ensures a continuous learning environment, enhancing our ability to disseminate nutritional knowledge effectively.

Furthermore, the strategy aligns with broader agricultural, food security, and social safety net programs. By integrating these initiatives into these existing frameworks, we aim to create synergies that amplify the impact of our efforts. Collaboration with policymakers will advocate for supportive policies within the fisheries sector and strive to integrate nutrition-focused strategies into broader agricultural and economic development policies. This inclusive approach fosters an environment conducive to sustained positive change, addressing malnutrition comprehensively and creating a lasting impact on the well-being of Bihar's communities.

Puneet Khanduja

Baishnaba Charan Ratha

Project Manager

Manmohan Singh

Dipanshi Sood