Dr. Akinwumi Adesina’s efforts to modernise Africa’s agriculture have been recognized
Few Ugandans would recognize Akinwumi Adesina if they met him. But at the continental level, the suave bow-tied gentleman is better known as the President of the African Development Bank.
Now, his star is set to shine even brighter after he was recently named the 2017 World Food Prize Laureate (winner). The prize, also referred to as the Nobel equivalent for agriculture, was created by the late Dr. Norman Borlaug, famed as the father of the Green Revolution Foundation is organised by his foundation in collaboration with the city of Des Moines, the capital of the great US farming state of Iowa.
Last year’s Prize was awarded to four eminent scientists including Uganda’s Dr. Robert Mwanga, for their outstanding contribution towards adding critical vitamins and micronutrients into staple crops through breeding also known as bio-fortification. Dr. Mwanga working with Mozambican Dr. Maria Andrade, were singled out for their work in developing the orange fleshed sweet potatoe.
Others Dr. Jan Low and Dr. Howarth Bouis through their organization Harvest Plus, developed systems that fostered the distribution of orange fleshed sweet-potatoes and iron-enriched beans.
But Adesina’s recognition is less of a surprise considering his long-standing advocacy and passion for Africa’s agriculture during the past two decades.
Before being named the AFDB bank boss, Adesina served as Nigeria’s minister of Agriculture, a position he used to raise the profile of the sector that was suffering from the effects of under-investment by previous Nigerian governments that emphasised oil over the agricultural sector.
But even before assuming the agriculture portfolio in Nigeria, Adesina worked with prominent organisations such as the Rockefeller Foundation, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
These jobs put him at the forefront of galvanizing political will to transform African agriculture through initiatives to: expand agricultural production, thwart corruption in the Nigerian fertilizer industry and exponentially increase the availability of credit for smallholder farmers across the African continent.
Driven by the need for policy reform, financial innovation and enhanced agricultural production, Dr. Adesina organized the 2006 Africa Fertilizer Summit; which led to a major expansion of commercial bank lending to farmers.
His innovations in the fertilizer industry such as the introduction of the E-Wallet system broke the back of corrupt elements that had controlled the fertilizer distribution system for 40 years.
Now as the first person with an agricultural background ever to lead a regional development bank, AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina has become an African Child Nutrition Evangelist, telling everyone who will listen, as well as those who won’t, that for Africa to succeed in the 21st century it must promote and enhance the nutritional, educational and economic opportunities available to the next generation.
A Bold Visionary and Leader for Africa
Dr. Adesina has been heralded as “Africa’s Norman Borlaug,” and for the past 25 years has passionately spearheaded major policies of comprehensive support for millions of farmers across the continent, including access to financing and credit, access to agricultural technologies such as improved seeds and fertilizers and investment in agriculture from both the public and private sectors.
2006 African Fertilizer Summit
Adesina came to strongly believe that unless fertilizer use gained traction in African countries on a wide scale, the farmers in those countries would never see an improvement in yields nor in their livelihoods.
To that end, in 2006 with President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Adesina rallied the world community, including Dr. Norman Borlaug, the Rockefeller Foundation, the heads of IFAD and the African Commission—as well as many other heads of state and leaders of non-governmental organizations—to develop workable solutions to Africa’s fertilizer crisis.
The African Fertilizer Summit in Abuja, Nigeria, for which he was the lead organizer, was one of the largest high-level meetings in history to focus on Africa’s food issues. Before setting out to persuade key African leaders of the need for a fertilizer summit, Adesina had told his wife Grace that he was going into a one-person battle to promote hybrid seeds and fertilizer. In that regard, he managed to galvanize support around the idea of implementing the Green Revolution in Africa.
At the age of 92, the architect of the Green Revolution in Asia and Latin America, Dr. Norman Borlaug, played a central role at the 2006 Summit, challenging the African presidents and leaders during his keynote speech by emphatically declaring, while banging on the lectern, that he wanted to see the Green Revolution take hold in Africa before he died! President Obasanjo, who hosted the gathering, was so moved by Dr. Borlaug’s passionate words that he joined him at the podium at the conclusion of the speech, affirming to the audience of more than 1,000 that: “We’ve been chastised by Norm—and, so, we have to move forward and get our agriculture moving.”
While as President of AFDB, Dr. Adesina has championed the cause for reversing Africa’s import bill on food.
While speaking at the Center for Global Development event held in Washington DC in April this year, Adesina said that Africa’s rising foot import bill is destroying the continent’s economies and jobs.
“Africa’s annual food import bill of $35 billion, estimated to rise to $110 billion by 2025, weakens African economies, decimates its agriculture and exports jobs from the continent,” he said.
As President of AFDB, Adesina has put Agriculture as the top priority in the bank’s strategic interventions, ear-marking billions of dollars towards increasing agricultural production.
He said at the CGD event in Washington DC that: ‘‘To rapidly support Africa to diversify its economies, and revive its rural areas, we have prioritized agriculture. We are taking action. The Bank has committed $24 billion towards agriculture in the next 10 years, with a sharp focus on food self-sufficiency and agricultural industrialization.”
Responds to Award
Speaking from his office in the Ivory Coast, Adesina says he hopes the prize helps his push to commercialize African farming.
“So what Africa does with agriculture is going to determine the future of food in the world,” Adesina told wfyi.com: “And that’s why I really believe the key is to make agriculture in Africa a business.”
He says he’s honoured to get the prize. “The key is we want to end malnutrition and stunting in Africa. So the World Food Prize actually puts the wind behind the sail about what we want to do.