• By: OLM Staff

Micronutrient Initiative: Fighting World Hunger

According to the United Nations World Food Programme, one child will die from hunger-related causes by the time you reach the end of this sentence. Overall, 25,000 people die daily due to hunger and malnutrition. In fact, the number of people who don’t have enough to eat—a terrifying 923 million—is larger than the combined populations of Canada, the United States and the European Union. Malnutrition and starvation are a global problem, and a non-profit organization right in Ottawa’s backyard is doing its part day by day.

The Micronutrient Initiative (MI) is an independent Canadian organization that wishes to see a future world free of hidden hunger. Launched in 1997, today’s MI is one of the most successful international development programs to come out of Canada.

“The Micronutrient Initiative focuses on some of the most impoverished regions of the world,” says Venkatesh Mannar, the initiative’s CEO. “We help women and children receive and consume the vitamins and minerals that they need to survive and develop their full potential.”

The problem with nutrition is that many of our essential nutrients—like iron, vitamin A and zinc—are consumed through food. However, deficiencies quickly develop in areas where people don’t always have access to nutritious food. Acute deficiencies can result in numerous diseases and health risks, and can be lethal.

MI focuses on these deficiencies through micronutrient products that are portable, cost effective and easy to transport to the developing world. Examples include Nutri-candies, vitamin mixes, and a powder additive that can be sprinkled on food to give it an instant vitamin boost. Many of these products are developed right in Canada with some of our country’s top universities and scientists. The products are then sent out to regions that need help the most.

“We have a big focus that children under five have two high doses of vitamin A every year,” says Mannar. Vitamin A deficiencies are the chief cause of child blindness in developing countries. “That sounds fairly simple…but as you can imagine, just the logistics…to get to every child is quite a challenge,” says Mannar. “We distribute about 500 million capsules of vitamin A produced here in Canada…to UNICEF and other partners, and our people work with them on the ground from the national capitals to the settlements and districts.” The numbers quickly add up. In 2007, MI produced its five billionth vitamin A capsule.

The end goal is a sustainable plan to solve nutritional deficiencies. “The main thing we want to do,” says Mannar, “is do [micronutrient distributions] in a way that takes hold within countries’ systems and help build a network so it becomes a part of what they do so that we can withdraw and they can do it on their own.”

“We have a fairly clear mission,” says Mannar, explaining the passion that drives himself and his colleagues. “We know the issues we’re trying to promote, and the fact that we’re reaching so many people. No two days are the same. Life is very exciting around here.” Many MI workers combine office work with field work, and get a chance to see MI’s projects making real, tangible differences. On a recent trip to India, Mannar saw how MI’s vitamin program quickly solved deficiencies in one salt-farming area. “The changes are dramatic,” he says.

MI is distinctly Canadian and an exemplary organization promoting Canada’s international work in child development. “Canada’s leadership is something that’s unmatched,” says Mannar. The initiative is breaking the poverty cycle and saving lives with its micronutrient products. And that’s positive news on a mega-scale.

By: Joshua Duvauchelle