By Ayo Oyoze Baje
The piece of heartwarming news that our own Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, current President, African Development Bank and former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development under President Goodluck Jonathan has been named the 2017 World Food Prize Laureate could not have come at a better time. With Nigeria experiencing a turbulent econo-political period the award comes as a breath of fresh air. What makes it more cheering is the fact that it is a well deserved laurel for a distinguished Nigerian. Adesina epitomizes a bright beacon of hope in our long, dark tunnel of ignorance, poverty, apathy and self-inflicted woes.
As one of his consistent admirers over the years, the focus is on the lasting lessons we all could glean from him on professionalism, pragmatic leadership, selfless service, patriotism and can-do it spirit. It would be recalled, that back in 2008 when yours truly was the Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of Strata Media Organization, Adesina granted our rich and colourful Foodbusiness International Magazine, a two-page, pull-out interview. It was through the Assistant Editor, Lanre Agboola. The then editor, Zeb Agomuo was thrilled. In fact, that incisive interview not only sold out, the Vol.1,No7 Edition but got the members of staff academically enriched and thoroughly inspired. Adesina was then the Vice President (Policy and Partnerships), Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa(AGRA).
He used that opportunity to canvass subsidy for African farmers. Said he: “ When I say smart subsidies, I mean the private sector has to distribute the inputs, the government supports the farmers together. We also have to make sure it is a targeted subsidy” that would benefit the poor farmers. “The government has to make sure that the farmers are provided with proper extension services, to be very efficient.” What made him sad was when ” I see so many graduates of agriculture all across Africa roaming the streets, looking for jobs. It is a bizarre thing”. Good enough, he walked the talk when he eventually became the Minister of agriculture. As aptly captured by Kenneth Quinn, the President, the World Food Prize, the Hall of Laureates, described Adesina as “someone who grew out of poverty, but whose life mission is to lift up millions of people out of poverty’’. Inspiring, is it not? Of course, it is.
These are reflected in his breakthrough achievements all through his career. The list is long but let us have a taste of the pudding. For instance, as the Vice President of AGRA he introduced initiatives to exponentially increase the availability of credit for smallholder farmers across the African continent. Not done, he galvanized the political will to transform African agriculture. Back in 2006, as the Associate Director for Food Security at the Rockefeller Foundation, Adesina played a critical leadership role in organizing the Africa Fertilizer Summit in Abuja. That summit was described as absolutely essential in igniting the campaign to spread a new Green Revolution across Africa, which led to the creation of AGRA.
Furthermore, as Minister of Agriculture in Nigeria, from 2011 to 2015 he successfully transformed the country’s agriculture sector through bold reforms. He it was who introduced the E-Wallet system which broke the back of the corrupt elements that had controlled the fertilizer distribution system for 40 years. In addition, was the creation of programmes to make Nigeria self-sufficient in rice production, as well as to make cassava become a major cash crop. The related value chain he clamoured for saw the input of 20 per cent cassava flour to 80 per cent wheat flour in the making of composite bread. Also, the ‘Nagroprenuers’ scheme he introduced made way for the training of 750,000 young graduates in commercial farming.
As Quinn rightly noted, the reforms he implemented increased food production by 21 million metric tonnes and attracted 5.6 billion dollars in private sector investments. This earned him the reputation as the ‘Farmer’s Minister’.” Incidentally, Adesina has become the first person from the agriculture sector to ever lead a regional development bank. His receiving the World Food Nobel Laureate Prize “would give impetus in the coming decade to his profound vision”. Adesina is also the 46th person and the sixth African to win the World Food Prize. Are we not immensely proud of him? Yes, we are!
That explains the presence of the former Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Nigeria’s Acting Ambassador to the U.S. and Chargé d ‘ Affaires, Ambassador Hakeem Balogun to savour the momentous occasion. Note that they were not there as Igbo, Yoruba or whatever but as proud Nigerians to identify with a son of the soil, holding the green-white-flag of unity and progress, peace and prosperity for the whole world to see. That is another lesson for us all.
In retrospect, Adesina’s sterling achievements as the Minister of Agriculture was one issue that stood former President Goodluck Jonathan in good stead. Adesina won the prestigious Forbes Magazine Africa Man –of- the- Year Award. And in 2015 the country won an award from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO for achieving one of the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs on halving the number of hungry people in the country by 2015.That was during the two-day summit by Rockefeller Foundation with the theme: ‘Realizing the potential of African agriculture’.
Unfortunately, the bitter truth is that Nigerians are hungrier now than they were in 2015. The lesson here is for us to stop politicizing sensitive and critical issues on good governance. What would have happened if Adesina’s vibrant and virile vision for the agriculture sector had been sustained till now? Your answer is as good as mine. Adesina will be presented the 250,000-dollar prize in moreyhakja the award has become known as the “Nobel Prize’’ for Food and Agriculture.
The prestigious 250,000 dollars prize is given annually to a person who has worked to advance human development by “improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world”. Over a 31-year existence, the announcement by Quinn was made at a ceremony held at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which was attended by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. Quinn said, “These individuals have been at the forefront of every major breakthrough in agriculture and food production in the last 30 years. He said that the laureates had led the “single greatest period of food production and hunger reduction in all human history. According to him, nominations for the prize were submitted by organisations and prestigious individuals.
He said that a Selection Committee, made of individuals from around the world, makes the final decision. Adesina, whose name was selected on Monday at Washington, D.C, becomes the 46th recipient and the sixth African to be so honoured. The award ceremony would take place Oct. 19. Adesina was the Nigeria Minister of Agriculture under the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Also, Perdue, attesting to the good works of Adesina, said the new Food Prize Laureate, could fit in as the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
Baje writes from Lagos