Zinc about it

Forces deep within Canada’s agri-food sector are among those working for a greater good.

Vancouver-based mining giant Teck is one of the world’s largest suppliers of zinc – a key nutrient in fertilizer and an essential ingredient of human health. Teck CEO Don Lindsay gets visibly animated when describing Teck’s Zinc & Health program (www.zincsaveslives.com).

Zinc deficiency is one of the most common micronutrient deficiency problems globally, especially in rice, wheat or corn, explains Lindsay, noting, “Nearly half of cultivated soils worldwide currently contain low amounts of zinc, and by 2018 this could reach 65 per cent.”

In human health, zinc deficiency can lead to impaired growth and neurological development, as well as a weakened immune system.

While adding a small amount of zinc to fertilizer can significantly increase crop output and improve the nutritional quality of agricultural products, therapeutic zinc is an inexpensive treatment for diarrhea, which kills 1,500 children worldwide every day.

Teck is a founding member of the Zinc Alliance for Child Health, a $25-million partnership with UNICEF, the Government of Canada and the Micronutrient Initiative that aims to scale up access to zinc in high burden countries. To date, nearly eight million children, many of them in impoverished West Africa, have received lifesaving zinc tablets.

In China, where nearly half of all arable land is zinc deficient and some 39 per cent of children suffer from zinc deficiency, Teck has been working with China’s Ministry of Agriculture and the International Zinc Association to carry out more than 40 field trials in China, as well as education programs, including national workshops and training courses to demonstrate the benefits of zinc fertilizer.

“The two-year program has demonstrated that zinc fertilizer application has increased crop yields from 8 per cent to 20 per cent and nutritional quality by up to 40 per cent,” says Lindsay.

Since 2011, Teck has partnered with Free The Children to raise awareness about zinc deficiency and reach more than 200,000 youth leaders. In 2012, Teck also partnered with chemical giant BASF to jointly develop affordable zinc fortification solutions to reduce zinc deficiency in developing countries.