This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

Evidence of meeting #15 for Foreign Affairs and International Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was zinc.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Yvon Bernier  Vice-President, Consulting Expertise, Développement international Desjardins
Christina Dendys  Director, External Relations, Micronutrient Initiative
Doug Horswill  Senior Vice-President, Sustainability and External Affairs, Teck Resources Limited

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Thank you, Chair.

I'll let my colleague put that on the record. I think that is a very important point.

It's a fascinating discussion here, and I'm intrigued to get another angle on some of this nutritional deficiency.

A question comes to mind as you're telling me this. Has this been the case throughout human history? Have people always had a deficiency of zinc, have they always had a deficiency of vitamin A and all the others, or is there another underlying problem?

I say that because we had the health people in, and of course the health accord is coming up, and we have some great dialogue around that. My challenge was that we're talking about the end result. What are we doing right at the beginning? Are we looking to see why we have deficiencies in these areas? Is that part of the scope—and I'm not being critical, because what you're doing is important—or are we putting all of our energy on the result of the problem and not looking at the problem?

Do you understand what I'm getting at?

9:30 a.m.

Director, External Relations, Micronutrient Initiative

Christina Dendys

I think so. The best solution to nutritional deficits is a really balanced and healthy multiplicity of foods to eat.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

So what's going on? Are we targeting areas of the world and asking if it is because of war or because of famine, or have these regions always developed people that are deficient in zinc and vitamin A?

9:30 a.m.

Director, External Relations, Micronutrient Initiative

9:30 a.m.

Senior Vice-President, Sustainability and External Affairs, Teck Resources Limited

Doug Horswill

One of the things we've come to know is that in parts of China where the intensity of agriculture has gone up substantially even though the diet hasn't changed much—it's either wheat- or rice-based—in both cases the intensity of agriculture depletes the soil of zinc. The consequence of depleted soil is that the grains themselves are depleted in zinc. Let's say the aboriginals on the B.C. coast whose diet was fish are not zinc-deficient because they get enough from their foodstuffs. People in the world whose primary caloric intake comes from grain have had an increased problem with zinc deficiency due to intense agriculture. There may be many other explanations, but that's one we've come to know.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Are we doing anything about that?

9:35 a.m.

Senior Vice-President, Sustainability and External Affairs, Teck Resources Limited

Doug Horswill

That's where, as I explained, there's a continuum, from children who are suffering from diarrhea through to fortifying fertilizers with zinc in order to be able to improve the quality and quantity of the grains grown in now zinc-sufficient, rather than zinc-deficient, soils.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

So if I understand this correctly, the fertilizers are providing this to the plants so that we no longer have to give supplements. That is the goal.

9:35 a.m.

Senior Vice-President, Sustainability and External Affairs, Teck Resources Limited

Doug Horswill

Fertilizer is a multitude of chemicals. The basic ones are what they call NPK fertilizers. But what agriculturalists understand as they've learned more is that there are also micronutrients that are important in fertilizers. Zinc is one of them, and barium is another one. I'm not a soil scientist, but I think there are other components that are often added.

Today in India there is a very extensive program of adding zinc and other micronutrients to fertilizers. I think there are something like eight or ten different fertilizer companies in India that are selling zinc-enriched fertilizers.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

You've answered my question. That's very important, because that was a little puzzling.

Mr. Bernier, did you state that your micromanagement outreach in third-world countries is non-profit?

9:35 a.m.

Vice-President, Consulting Expertise, Développement international Desjardins

Yvon Bernier

Développement international Desjardins is, first of all, a non-profit organization attached to the Mouvement Desjardins. There are two action areas. The first is consulting, that is technical assistance to financial institutions, mainly of a cooperative nature. That is currently under way in about 30 countries. The second action area or activity sector is investment. It also makes it possible to—

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Yes, I have that. Sorry, I'm going to interrupt. I just wanted to understand.

What's in it for Desjardins? Does this give you an opportunity to get into the third world at the ground floor, so that as these countries develop you have an opportunity to develop banking in those third-world countries?

9:35 a.m.

Vice-President, Consulting Expertise, Développement international Desjardins

Yvon Bernier

Not at all. Currently, the Mouvement Desjardins—or the Desjardins banking sector—is conducting no commercial operations in any developing countries. I repeat, Développement international Desjardins is an NGO that is engaged solely in development-related activities and activities related to public development assistance programs, whether those of CIDA, the World Bank, the UN or the International Fund for Agricultural Development. It always associates with a local partner, which is generally a financial cooperative belonging to the local population. We assist local populations when they develop their own financial institutions and we provide them with necessary instruments.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

I understand that, but I think you said you have loaned out a quarter of a billion dollars. Where does that money come from? Does it come from your shareholders, the corporation of Desjardins? Where does that money come from that you loan out to the third-world countries?

9:35 a.m.

Vice-President, Consulting Expertise, Développement international Desjardins

Yvon Bernier

Earlier I mentioned that there were assets of more than CAN$1 billion in West Africa. That value has essentially been created through the mobilization of local resources. That means that all the financial institutions that DID is assisting are mobilizing national savings. They are mobilizing small savings, and it is small savings that are subsequently transformed into credit for their members and clients. So this isn't money that belongs to Desjardins: it still belongs to local users, to the local populations. The value is created from their own resources.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

I'm just a little confused. You are a public company, and this has a cost. You must have a balance sheet that shows what your costs are. Where do the moneys come from to operate Desjardins development?

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Dave, we'll answer the question, but that's all the time we have for your round.

Mr. Bernier.

9:40 a.m.

Vice-President, Consulting Expertise, Développement international Desjardins

Yvon Bernier

Développement international Desjardins is a non-profit corporation whose board of directors consists of Desjardins members from the Mouvement Desjardins. That non-profit corporation has a gift of $20 million from the Mouvement Desjardins that enables it to mobilize the Canadian partnership. We've invested $5 million in order to receive $20 million. DID submits projects to the Canadian International Development Agency either through spontaneous proposals or calls for competitive bids in the markets.

DID works with the World Bank in the context of calls for competitive tenders at the international level and with the Mexican government in the context of calls for tender at the world level. So our revenue sources are diversified. Our total revenue associated with Canadian projects represents approximately 50% of our turnover. The rest is allocated among other international funding agencies and governments.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Thank you very much.

Mr. Eyking, for seven minutes.

December 6th, 2011 / 9:40 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Thank you, Chair.

I thank the witnesses for coming this morning.

As a vegetable farmer, I worked a lot in Central America with small farmers in setting up co-ops, so your testimonies are very dear to me, and I'm learning more as I hear from you.

In my experience, once you get rid of the strongmen, the dictators, and people have rights to land and some individual rights, much can be done with small, strategic investments. You have mentioned some of them.

Your testimonies are different, but they all link together in a whole-community approach. You are well aware of the millennium goals and the work that's been done.

I also did some work with the Gates and Rockefeller foundations on this community approach, more or less. I guess that's where I'm coming from. Of course it starts when you get into these communities. You do the soil tests concerning the deficiency in the soils, which has an impact on grains and livestock and humans and water and various things. Sometimes I think we have different organizations out there but maybe they're working in different silos. That's why I like the millennium goals of the Gates Foundation. I'm not saying they were doing a perfect job, but they had that whole-community approach.

In your experience, do you see enough of that? Should there be more of that? Should we, as governments, encourage more of that to set up the parameters? If we have clean drinking water close at hand, the kids don't have to haul it. They are going to school, so there is a whole-community approach. Does there have to be more of that? Are other countries doing that? Should we, as a government, be encouraging that kind of thing?

Anybody can answer.

9:40 a.m.

Director, External Relations, Micronutrient Initiative

Christina Dendys

You've hit on something incredibly important, particularly in the area of nutrition, because we know the only way we are going to make progress is for governments themselves to prioritize this and for it not to be siloed. Nutrition has been forgotten and underfunded, in part because it gets shoved off somewhere and it is not prioritized. There is a movement afoot globally called the Scaling Up Nutrition movement. Canada has been a leader on that, but governments around the world in 21 developing countries have signed on.

It is not just a sign-on campaign that means nothing. Somebody has to be a leader within those governments to say that nutrition, for example, is cross-sectoral. It is cross-departmental. It fits within agriculture, economic development, and health: a variety of divisions within a government mandate and operations.

There is a real move about horizontality and synergies and ensuring they are not siloed, because when things are siloed they don't get done. You have hit on something incredibly important. Canada and the world are recognizing that siloed interventions can be problematic.

Having said that, we need to be cautious that when we try to incorporate something into everything that it doesn't get lost again, right? Using this as an example, vitamin A, which is responsible for saving millions of children's lives, has been integrated into what are called child health days. Those campaigns happen a couple of times a year. So it's a little about not throwing out the baby with the bathwater to ensure that the low-cost, high-impact interventions that breach the most vulnerable also don't get lost in all of it.

A bit of a game needs to be played to ensure that it is recognized as important across spectrums but also that we don't lose progress or traction on the ground that we've already covered.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

If you're trying to get these pills to the kids, and half of them are not in school, it's kind of like this Catch-22: in order to get them to take a pill a day or a week or whatever, the ideal is for the teacher to pass the pills out with a glass of clean water. You would think that would be a simple thing in our society, but it's not a simple thing in those societies.

Is reaching these children on the street a problem too?

9:45 a.m.

Director, External Relations, Micronutrient Initiative

Christina Dendys

You know, the price of commodities is so small when you're talking about micronutrients, for example, that really the bulk of the investment is in delivery through health systems and other things, which we do need to be building up. By the way, it's literally two capsules a year--one in the spring and one in the fall. That's it. That's why we've been doing them in partnership with UNICEF through child health days.

Have you heard of these child health days? There are campaigns that are supported by national governments and INGOs and aid organizations. You go out and kind of grab all the moms and kids. You do social mobilization; you get the word out, and moms and kids come. Oftentimes they will be linked with immunization campaigns, or in the past they were linked with polio updates or with bed-net distribution, and you kind of do this social mobilization whereby you bring families together for that one-stop shopping. Apparently, if you go it's enough to bring tears to your eyes, because it's a massive sort of campaign.

Now there's more of a move to really integrate them within health systems, particularly the health systems that are valued by the Muskoka Initiative investments. You can reach people close to home, at the district or community health posts at the farthest mile. You have hospitals in cities and district clinics. Then you have these remote health posts that reach families where they live. This sort of stuff needs to be integrated within that sort of last-mile approach.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

I have only so much time. I guess one of my other questions--and I'm in the opposition, and I'm trying not to beat up on these guys--is I think we're looking at a proactive approach and at what we can do better as Canadians. I think we're trying to achieve these goals and get more aid, and sometimes it's easiest just to give to multilaterals like the UN and say “Okay, we did our job, there's the money”, so we don't have to be as accountable. Is that the right direction for us, or should we be rolling up our sleeves more and getting involved in how the money you say is from Muskoka is getting to where it needs to go?

Maybe somebody else can answer that.

9:45 a.m.

Vice-President, Consulting Expertise, Développement international Desjardins

Yvon Bernier

That's a very good question. It's a major issue. We've contributed to CIDA briefs in order to offer our orientations on international aid. In general, Canada is one of the best perceived countries with regard to cooperation. Canadians are held in high regard for the way they do business with local partners, and in that sense I believe they clearly distinguish themselves from a number of other countries that engage in cooperation.

Canada must clearly carry out its own projects as far as possible. However, that depends on the sectors. In some sectors it has to collaborate with major organizations, such as UNICEF and other large global organizations that have extremely specific targets, such as childhood, for example. I believe that's necessary.

However, not all programs must become multilateral programs. Canada at times remains distinctly in the background, except when it makes a financial contribution. We don't really see any contribution of Canadian expertise, the image of Canada that is projected as a result, the influence that Canada can have on those countries with regard to values and ways of viewing development, and so on. All that is toned down when we contribute financially to bilateral programs. Canada has to strike a balance through very broad-based programs and much more specific programs.

Thank you.