How Can We Avoid Food Waste in Bangladesh?

Even though more than a quarter of the Bangladeshi population is malnourished, a lot of food is still wasted due to a lack of preservation and processing techniques in the country. In attempt to combat this, Kanika Mitra will be looking into Arum, a plant that is cheap to grow and excellent for human health.

Throughout her research career, Kanika Mitra has been dedicated to improving the nutrition of the Bangladeshi people. More than a quarter are considered to be undernourished and the rapid growth in the country’s population, coupled with cyclical drought and flooding in Northern Bangladesh, is exacerbating the problem.

Kanika believes that self-sufficiency is one of the most sustainable methods of mitigating food insecurity in these vulnerable communities. Her fellowship project focuses on improving the preservation of locally-grown foods so the population can benefit from their nutritional and medicinal virtues throughout the year. Fruit and vegetables are important sources of flavonoids, vitamin C and beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A. The vitamins act as anti-oxidants which fight free radical molecules in the body and can help reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and many other major disorders. Much fresh produce is currently wasted in Bangladesh because basic processing and preservation techniques are not readily available.

Kanika’s research will initially focus on preserving the physiological and antioxidant properties of the Arum plant during storage. Arum is cheap to grow, rich in calcium and iron, and frequently used as a source of food during drought periods. As local farmers are keen to diversify their cultures, she will also investigate the possibilities of improving local post-harvest preservation techniques for strawberry and blueberry crops, as these nutritious fruits have excellent export potential.

She will first study the physiological changes that take place during the ripening and maturing process. As the plant tissues begin to soften, green chlorophyll is gradually lost and replaced with yellow-red carotenoid pigments, accompanied by changes in the metabolism of organic acids and sugars, and a reduction in antioxidant properties. By comparing the nutritional and antioxidant properties of fresh samples with those subject to different preservation techniques, such as cold storage and solar or mechanical drying, she will study which techniques are most efficient and best adapted to local conditions.

On return to Bangladesh, Kanika will be well-equipped to set up her own laboratory so that she can continue her efforts to improve the nutritional status of the Bangladeshi population whilst contributing to sustainable rural development.

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