Every child has the right to proper nutrition

21 March 2014 | Column | By Feike Sijbesma, CEO, Royal DSM

Traditionally, governments have addressed issues in the public domain, companies have taken care of matters in the private domain and international institutions have addressed topics crossing national boundaries. But in our increasingly complicated world, companies, governments and international institutions need to work together, in private-public-partnerships, to solve the big global issues of today. All of the world’s problems are simply too big to be solved by just one entity.

It is my belief that companies need to use their increased impact and power to fulfill their responsibility to address and help solve global issues. Without the private sector our society won’t be able to effectively address topics such as hunger, the world’s greatest solvable problem. So we need business, but it’s their responsibility to contribute as well.

DSM has been taking its responsibility amongst others in its partnership with the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) for almost 6 years now. As the world’s largest producer of micronutrients, such as vitamins, we have the knowledge and the ability to help. Not just to fill people’s stomachs, but to properly feed them with nutritious food.

Hunger is not only about staple food and carbohydrates; it’s also about the nutritional content, like vitamins and minerals. An estimated 2 billion people around the world are malnourished, meaning they are not receiving the necessary levels of micro-nutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc.) that would allow them to be physically and mentally healthy.

We know that if a child doesn’t get the proper nutrients in the first 1,000 days of its life (from conception to its second birthday), it will be stunted, which would mean a reduced growth rate resulting in poorer cognitive capacity, more likelihood of diseases and less ability to learn at school and so to earn a living and contribute to society as an adult. This damage can never be repaired.

There are 165 million children under five years old in the world who are stunted. An average 6-year-old child measures around 120 centimeters. A stunted child, who hasn’t received adequate nutrition: 90 centimeters. Stunted children will never realise their full physical and mental potential, which means also that their learning and earning potential will be permanently impaired, as well as their contribution to their own, often poor, countries, which is so needed.

Nutrition insecurity and micronutrient deficiency are the most widespread health problems in the world. They impair the mental development of 40-60% of infants in the developing world, debilitate the health and energy of 500 million women, and lead to more than 60,000 deaths during childbirth annually.

Iron, Vitamin A and zinc deficiencies rank among the top 10 leading causes of death due to disease in developing countries. Under-nutrition compounded by repeated bouts of infectious disease causes an estimated 3.5 million preventable maternal and child deaths annually.

I am humbled; feel privileged and proud that DSM is able to help WFP. Our employees are proud too. Proud, that they are working for a company that is able to take its responsibility. But we do more.

Together with Sight and Life, our own DSM humanitarian think tank, we are working on a campaign together with other partners to ensure that global leaders will include nutrition and measures to address stunting in the post 2015 millennium development goals.

Because we need to ask ourselves: what kind of world do we want to strive for in the decades to come? What future do we want for the world’s children?

And, since: “We cannot be successful, nor call ourselves successful, in a world that fails”, we therefore have to secure every child’s right to have proper nutrition.

Feike Sijbesma, CEO, Royal DSM

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