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Hidden hunger – the impact of nutritional deficiency on early childhood development

Hidden hunger – the impact of nutritional deficiency on early childhood development

By Brenda Wawa

For years, boosting agricultural production was believed to be the solution to world hunger and malnourishment. But years of intensive farming with chemical fertilizers and pesticides has done little to move the needle on food insecurity, health metrics or life expectancy.

Today, experts have identified a new kind of hunger—one caused not by lack of food but by food that lacks essential micronutrients necessary for growth and development.

Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals such as iodine, vitamin A, iron, zinc, calcium, and many others.

The effects of micronutrient deficiency can be irreversible. For example, without iodine, children are susceptible to brain damage.

Its most devastating impacts occur during fetal development and in the first few years of a child’s life,” warns UNICEF, the UN body that handles issues affecting children.

Micronutrients, though needed in microquantities, its deficiency can condemn a child to lifelong irreversible damageThey would never be able to attain their intellectual, economic and developmental potential,” said Anna Lartey, director of nutrition at the Food and Agriculture Organization, a specialised UN agency that leads efforts to defeat hunger.

Lack of vitamin A is the leading cause of preventable childhood blindness, stunted growth, weakened immunity and high mortality for children under five.

Hidden hunger also leads to acute undernutrition or child wasting, which can be diagnosed in children under five with low height for their age. It affects them at an extremely crucial phase in development.

Globally, up to 2 billion people do not get enough essential vitamins and minerals from food, according to the 2018 Global Hunger Index, which tracks and measures efforts to fight hunger, indicating that many of the affected are in poor countries.

Nearly 48% of Africa’s population relies on cereals and root staples that lack vital micronutrients, according to the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, the implementing arm of the African Union. Millions have no access to or can not afford foods such as vegetables, fruits, and animal products that are rich in micronutrients.

Possible solutions

To provide adequate micronutrients for children, UNICEF recommends a diverse range of nutrient-dense foods. It also recommends that children be breastfed.

Biofortification is another effective remedy, experts say. The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes biofortification as “a process by which the nutritional quality of food crops is improved through agronomic practices, conventional plant breeding, or modern biotechnology.”

The process usually targets the three crucial nutrients—iron, zinc and vitamin A—that are the most limited in the diets of populations across Africa.

Researchers and nutritionists are optimistic about the impact and cost-effectiveness of biofortification.

It is a complementary intervention that can reach many people in the rural areas more easily, and has the advantage of being more sustainable,” said Dr. Natalia Palacios, maize nutritional quality specialist at the Kenya-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center. “Farmers and their families can benefit directly from a micronutrient-enhanced diet.”

WHO has yet to officially endorse biofortification, stating on its website that more research is needed. Nevertheless, by the end of 2017, about 6.7 million households globally had benefited from biofortified crops, of which 5 million households were in Africa.

HarvestPlus, a Washington D.C.–based organisation that seeks to reduce hidden hunger, is working with private and public sectors to implement biofortification in Africa.

Biofortification is also an objective in the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP), a framework adopted in 2003 by African leaders that requires countries to invest at least 10% of their budgets in agriculture.

Farmers in 13 African countries, including Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, are already growing biofortified crops and have incorporated them into their national nutrition policies and programmes. Thirty-eight other countries, including Angola, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Mali and Zambia, are carrying out tests.

Research has shown positive health impacts of vitamin A in maize and sweet potatoes in local systems, as well as the ability to scale up,” said Dr. John McDermott, director of the Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health at CGIAR, a global network of organizations engaged in research on food security.

Dr. McDermott added that “similar evidence for iron in beans and pearl millet show effectiveness and scalability of iron in plant sources, and we are working to show the same for zinc.”

Limitations of biofortification

Despite its touted merits, biofortification has its limits, including that some members of a target population will not consume a fortified foodstuff, even when exposed to the increased levels of micronutrients in food, according to WHO.

Also, infants and young children consuming relatively small amounts of food may not get enough micronutrients from fortified staples alone.

Poorer families often have multiple micronutrient deficiencies at once. While multiple micronutrient fortification is possible, these families may not be able to get recommended intakes of all micronutrients from fortified foods alone.

Although more cost-effective than other strategies, there are nevertheless significant costs associated with the food fortification process, which might limit the implementation and effectiveness of food fortification programmes in developing [countries] like India,” notes WHO.

The current funding for biofortification in Africa is restricted to adding the nutrient trait into already growing crop pipelines as opposed to including the nutrient trait right at the onset of plant breeding work. The current approach may not be sustainable in the long term, experts warn.

Also, weak seed and market systems in Africa continue to impede delivery to farmers of biofortified crops from which seeds can be obtained. Effective engagement between research and development institutions will likely address this weakness, posit biofortification researchers.

In sum, biofortification may not eradicate hidden hunger entirely, but it just might be an effective shield against hunger pangs in Africa.

Africa Renewal

About The Author

Sanlam 2018 Annual Results

7 March 2019


Sanlam’s 2018 annual results provides testimony to its resilience amid challenging operating conditions and negative investment markets

Sanlam today announced its operational results for the 12 months ended 31 December 2018. The Group made significant progress in strategic execution during 2018. This included the acquisition of the remaining 53% stake in SAHAM Finances, the largest transaction concluded in the Group’s 100-year history, and the approval by Sanlam shareholders of a package of Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) transactions that will position the Group well for accelerated growth in its South African home market.

Operational results for 2018 included 14% growth in the value of new life insurance business (VNB) on a consistent economic basis and more than R2 billion in positive experience variances, testimony to Sanlam’s resilience in difficult times.

The Group relies on its federal operating model and diversified profile in dealing with the challenging operating environment, negative investment markets and volatile currencies. Management continues to focus on growing existing operations and extracting value from recent corporate transactions to drive enhanced future growth.

The negative investment market returns and higher interest rates in a number of markets where the Group operates had a negative impact on growth in operating earnings and some other key performance indicators. This was aggravated by weak economic growth in South Africa and Namibia and internal currency devaluations in Angola, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

Substantial growth in Santam’s operating earnings (net result from financial services) and satisfactory growth by Sanlam Emerging Markets (SEM) and Sanlam Corporate offset softer contributions from Sanlam Personal Finance (SPF) and Sanlam Investment Group (SIG).

Key features of the 2018 annual results include:

Net result from financial services increased by 4% compared to the same period in 2017;

Net value of new covered business up 8% to R2 billion (up 14% on a consistent economic basis);

Net fund inflows of R42 billion compared to R37 billion in 2017;

Adjusted Return on Group Equity Value per share of 19.4% exceeded the target of 13.0%; and

Dividend per share of 312 cents, up 8%.

Sanlam Group Chief Executive Officer, Mr Ian Kirk said: “We are satisfied with our performance in a challenging operating environment. We will continue to focus on managing operations prudently and diligently executing on our strategy to deliver sustainable value to all our stakeholders. The integration of SAHAM Finances is progressing well. In addition, Sanlam shareholders approved the package of B-BBEE transactions, including an equity raising, at the extraordinary general meeting held on 12 December 2018. Our plan to implement these transactions this year remains on track.”

Sanlam Personal Finance (SPF) net result from financial services declined by 5%, largely due to the impact of new growth initiatives and dampened market conditions. Excluding the new initiatives, SPF’s contribution was 1% down on 2017 due to the major impact that the weak equity market performance in South Africa had on fund-based fee income.

SPF’s new business sales increased by 4%, an overall satisfactory result under challenging conditions. Sanlam Sky’s new business increased by an exceptional 71%. Strong growth of 13% in the traditional individual life channel was augmented by the Capitec Bank credit life new business recognised in the first half of 2018, and strong demand for the new Capitec Bank funeral product. The Recurring premium and Strategic Business Development business units also achieved strong growth of 20%, supported by the acquisition of BrightRock in 2017. Glacier new business grew marginally by 1%. Primary sales onto the Linked Investment Service Provider (LISP) platform improved by 5%, an acceptable result given the pressure on investor confidence in the mass affluent market. This was however, offset by lower sales of wrap funds and traditional life products.

The strong growth in new business volumes at Sanlam Sky had a major positive effect on SPF’s VNB growth, which increased by 7% (14% on a comparable basis).

Sanlam Emerging Markets (SEM) grew its net result from financial services by 14%. Excluding the impact of corporate activity, earnings were marginally up on 2017 (up 8% excluding the increased new business strain).

New business volumes at SEM increased by 20%. Namibia performed well, increasing new business volumes by 22% despite weak economic conditions. Both life and investment new business grew strongly. Botswana underperformed with the main detractor from new business growth being the investment line of business, which declined by 24%. This line of business is historically more volatile in nature.

The new business growth in the Rest of Africa portfolio was 68% largely due to corporate activity relating to SAHAM Finances, with the East Africa portfolio underperforming.

The Indian insurance businesses continued to perform well, achieving double-digit growth in both life and general insurance in local currency. The Malaysian businesses are finding some traction after a period of underperformance, increasing their overall new business contribution by 3%. New business production is not yet meeting expectations, but the mix of business improved at both businesses.

SEM’s VNB declined by 3% (up 6% on a consistent economic basis and excluding corporate activity). The relatively low growth on a comparable basis is largely attributable to the new business underperformance in East Africa.

Sanlam Investment Group’s (SIG) overall net result from financial services declined by 6%, attributable to lower performance fees at the third party asset manager in South Africa, administration costs incurred for system upgrades in the wealth management business and lower earnings from equity-backed financing transactions at Sanlam Specialised Finance. The other businesses did well to grow earnings, despite the pressure on funds under management due to lower investment markets.

New business volumes declined by 13% mainly due to market volatility and low investor confidence in South Africa. Institutional new inflows remained weak for the full year, while retail inflows also slowed down significantly after a more positive start to the year. The international businesses, UK, attracted strong new inflows (up 57%).

Sanlam Corporate’s net result from financial services increased by 4%, with the muted growth caused by a continuation of high group risk claims experience. Mortality and disability claims experience weakened further in the second half of the year, which is likely to require more rerating of premiums in 2019. The administration units turned profitable in 2018, a major achievement. The healthcare businesses reported satisfactory double-digit growth in earnings, while the Absa Consultants and Actuaries business made a pleasing contribution of R39 million.

New business volumes in life insurance more than doubled, reflecting an exceptional performance. Single premiums grew by 109%, while recurring premiums increased by a particularly satisfactory 56%.

The good growth in recurring and single premium business, combined with modelling improvements, supported a 64% (71% on a comparable economic basis) increase in the cluster’s VNB contribution.

Following a year of major catastrophe events in 2017, Santam experienced a relatively benign claims environment in 2018. Combined with acceptable growth in net earned premiums, it contributed to a 37% increase in gross result from financial services (41% after tax and non-controlling interest). The conventional insurance book achieved an underwriting margin of 9% in 2018 (6% in 2017).

As at 31 December 2018, discretionary capital amounted to a negative R3.7 billion before allowance for the planned B-BBEE share issuance. A number of capital management actions during 2018 affected the balance of available discretionary capital, including the US$1 billion (R13 billion) SAHAM Finances transaction. Cash proceeds from the B-BBEE share issuance will restore the discretionary capital portfolio to between R1 billion and R1.5 billion depending on the final issue price within the R74 to R86 price range approved by shareholders.

Looking forward, the Group said economic growth in South Africa would likely remain weak in the short to medium term future, and would continue to impact efforts to accelerate organic growth. The outlook for economic growth in other regions where the Group operates is more promising. Recent acquisitions such as the SAHAM transaction should also support operational performance going forward.

“We remain focused on executing our strategy. We are confident that we have the calibre of management and staff to prudently navigate the anticipated challenges going forward,” Mr Kirk concluded.

Details of the results for the 12 months ended 31 December 2018 are available at