A recent research conducted by an international team of agriculture scientists revealed that zinc deficiency in Tarai soil was causing stunting in Nepali children.
The researchers claimed that crops harvested in such soil did not have zinc necessary for growth of Nepali children.
The research was based on over 10,000 soil samples collected from across Nepal’s Tarai region.
“The finding of the research is an eye-opener for us. We must conduct a dynamic research,” said Ram Krishna Shrestha, senior agriculture extension officer at the Department of Agriculture.
Manoj Thakur, senior scientist at Nepal Agricultural Research Council, Khumaltar, said Zinc deficiency was found mainly in Saptari, Sunsari, Siraha and some other areas of Tarai.
According to him, earlier, there was abundant zinc in the crops as farmers used manure as fertiliser. This trend is now decreasing as farmers are using more chemical fertilisers in their fields. “Deficiency of zinc can be addressed in two ways, first by using zinc sulphate in the nursery beds and secondly, by using it in the fields after planting crops,” he said.
He also said farmers could remove zinc deficiency by planting leguminous plants such as peas, beans, lentils, soy, and peanuts at least once a year. Green compost of these plants can also be used.
The government has been providing fortified foods in six districts of Karnali and Solukhumbu district of Province 1.
But as deficiency has been seen in other areas, fortified foods must be provided there too. Zinc tablets are also given to children when they suffer from diarrhoea, said Bhim Singh Tinkari, director, Family Welfare Division.
Spokesperson of Ministry of Health and Population Mahendra Shrestha said the ministry did not have sufficient budget this year to fortify food.
According to Nutritionist Uma Koirala, zinc helps in absorption of minerals such as calcium and protein.
Zinc helps in enzymatic reactions, immune functions, protein synthesis and wound healing.
Zinc also helps in growth of bones and muscles. Zinc deficiency can also cause diarrhoea, pneumonia, and infectious diseases.
The government has targeted reduction of rate of stunting from 36 per cent to 24 per cent by 2025 and to 14 per cent by 2030. Multi-sector Nutrition Plan has also been implemented to minimise the adverse effects on human capital and social and economic development by reducing chronic malnutrition.
According to Nepal Demographic Health Survey 2016, 36 per cent children in Nepal are stunted and 12 per cent are severely stunted.
Stunting increases with age, peaking at 45 per cent among children aged 24-35 months. In Karnali Province, 55 per cent children are stunted.
Children are defined as stunted if their height-forage is more than two standard deviations below the WHO Child Growth Standards median.