Former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Professor Akinwunmi Adesina, brought honour to himself, Nigeria and Africa with his selection as the 2017 World Food Prize winner. The food prize, which has a cash component of $250,000, is the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in Agriculture. We congratulate this cerebral technocrat and administrator for giving the country a reason to celebrate, especially in a season of difficult challenges.
This is not the first time Adesina has brought honour to his fatherland. In 2013, he was named by the influential Forbes magazine as the African Person of the Year, and in September 2016, he became a member of the Lead Group of the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement. His commitment to finding innovative solutions to the poverty and food crisis is outstanding.
Born on February 6, 1963 to a local farmer in Ebadam, in present day Ogun State, Adesina studied Agricultural Economics at the then University of Ife, Osun State. He had his PhD in the same discipline at the Purdue University, Indiana, USA.
In his latest award citation, Adesina was credited with devoting over 25 years of his life so far to driving change in African agriculture and improving food security for millions across the continent. That drive started in his time at the West African Rice Development Association (WARDA) in Bouake, Ivory Coast, where he served as a Senior Economist between 1990 and 1995. He had also formed a productive partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation since 1988, where he won a fellowship as a senior scientist and was seconded to South Africa as its representative from 1999 to 2003. From 2003 to 2008, he was the Assistant Director for Food Security.
Adesina’s profile soared when in 2010, the then UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, named him as one of the 17 global leaders to spearhead the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), for which the apex global body won much acclaim. He also served as Vice President, with responsibility for Policy and Partnerships, for the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). It is on this solid platform that he was headhunted and appointed the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development by the then President of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
In this position, he impacted the lives of Nigerians the most. From 2010 and until he left the federal cabinet in 2015, he was outstanding for his innovation, drive and uncommon zeal. He targeted the age-long malaise, inefficiency and corruption in the distribution of agricultural inputs, especially fertilisers, by introducing the E-Wallet method. This allowed the registered farmers who were in their millions at the production end of the chain to get their farm inputs at specific and properly designated locations close to their areas of operation and at rates directly communicated to them through their phones and other electronic devices. This had the immediate effect of cutting off the middlemen and brokers who for too long constituted a menace to government’s efforts to grow the agricultural sector.
Another lasting reform that he brought to agriculture in Nigeria is the NIRSAL, which allowed registered farmers to access farm loans at single digit interest rate. This was very crucial for revamping the agricultural sector and ensuring that it got the much needed boost. There was massive growth in productive capacities for staples like cassava, yam and rice, with Nigeria becoming the leading producer of the former globally. Building on the rich legacy Adesina left, the country only recently exported its first consignment of yams, totaling 70 tonnes, to the United States. It is a significant step in growing our non-oil earnings and achieving the much heralded diversification of the economy.
Now, at the African Development Bank (AfDB) on which board he sits as President, Adesina is no less desirous of sustaining the change that he has so passionately espoused all his working life. One of the first things he did on arrival at the very influential continental body in September 2015 was to mobilise its board to approve his strategy of change based on energy, agriculture, industrialisation, regional integration and bettering the lives of Africans. To give fillip to this strategy and ensure its success, he has designed a programme to launch five regional hubs to bring the entire process closer to the people and where they matter most.
Adesina is a pragmatist imbued with incurable optimism for the growth and positive turn-around of Africa. He is definitely one of the most profound success stories to have come out of the continent, and it is heartwarming that an appreciative world has recognised him.