Abeni Aso-Oke

Akinwunmi Adesina: Steadily and Steely Feeding Africa II. By Prof MK Othman

Abeni Aso-Oke

As mentioned in the first part of this piece, the 2006 Africa Fertilizer Summit in Abuja was a turning point for African agriculture. The Summit’s impetus birthed the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). As the first Vice President of AGRA, Adesina led one of the boldest and most considerable global efforts and finance initiatives that leveraged over $4 billion in Bank finance commitments to Africa’s agriculture sector.
Adesina’s critical leadership role in the massive success of the 2006 Africa Fertilizer Summit intensified his exposition on a global arena. Thus, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, the then United Nations Secretary-General, soon recognized the excellent leadership quality of Adesina and in 2010 appointed him as one of the 17 global leaders to spearhead the Millennium Development Goals.
A year after of Adesina’s UN appointment, in 2011, Dr. Goodluck Johnathan, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in a frenzy to prove his worth to Nigerians after the demise of his boss, President Umaru Musa Yar’adua, had to shop and head-hunt for highly qualified technocrats to hold key ministries and form his cabinet. Dr. Akinwumi Adesina was one of them.
Adesina’s appointment as Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development is one of the most beautiful reminiscences of Johnathan’s government. Adesina made an unprecedented landmark in developing agriculture in Nigeria. He turned the agriculture sector of Nigeria around within his four years as minister. Adesina ended Nigeria’s 40 years of open corruption in the fertilizer sector by developing an innovative electronic wallet system for fertilizer distribution. The system directly provided farmers with subsidized farm inputs at the required scale using their mobile phones. Within the first two years of its launch, the electronic wallet system reached 15 million farmers, dramatically transforming their lives from poverty-ridden to prosperous, happy farmers with glorious futures. Since then, the electronic wallet system has gone global- Afghanistan and many African countries have adopted the wallet system for distributing fertilizer and other essential commodities directly to beneficiaries. Unfortunately, the cabals killed the wallet system in Nigeria a few months after Adesina stepped down from his Ministerial chair.
Adesina’s appointment as Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development was a huge opportunity. Adesina knew that for Nigerians to feed themselves, farmers needed to shift from low-yielding, extensive production practices to more intensive, high-yielding varieties, with increased use of improved seeds, fertilizers, and irrigation. As the Nigerian minister, he used resources to increase farmers’ productivity, create market opportunities, revitalize extension services, energize the agricultural inputs industry, rejuvenate financial institutions, and solidify the linkage of the value chain actors.
Motivated by the inspirational words of his mentor, Dr. Borlaug, Adesina pulled the string, and most things fell into right places with tremendous impact. He introduced interventions that added over 21 million metric tons of food into the national food basket and attracted about 5.6 billion dollars in private-sector investment in Agriculture. He was nicknamed the “Farmers’ Minister”. Dr. Adesina created the Agricultural Extension Department that bridged the massive gap in the number of services rendered in the Ministry. The Department was crucial in technology dissemination, linkage with agricultural research centers, field feedback, and IT use for extension services. This action greatly impacted five major value chains: cassava, rice, sorghum, maize, and cotton, which made Nigeria self-sufficient in their production. In a recently privileged-rare engagement with Dr. Adesina, I could not resist knowing the magic responsible for his exceptional triumph despite environmental and human resources challenges. His capacity to identify problems and their solutions, vision for effective planning, ability to recognize essential and viable partners, and knack for making the partners work to achieve goals are some qualities that make Adesina succeed and score more goals.
Adesina’s enormous work in agriculture, bringing more food to the table from RF to AGRA and Minister of Agriculture in Nigeria, earned him the exalted 2017 World Food Prize with a handsome cash prize of $250,000. At the ceremony, as Adesina received the cash prize, he instantly donated it for capacity building of African youth in agricultural enterprises. His donation attracted donations from friends and well-wishers who joined him with their contributions, resulting in a vast financial resource for the support of youths in Africa. What an extraordinary ambassador to Africa! Those of us who witnessed the occasion in Des Moirés, USA were emotionally touched by Adesina’s benevolent gesture.
The President of the Foundation, Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, said Mr. Adesina won the prize “for driving change in African agriculture for over 25 years and improving food security for millions across the African continent”. He added “Adesina introduced initiatives to exponentially increase the availability of credit for smallholder farmers across the African continent and galvanized the political will to transform African agriculture.” Dr. Adesina was the 46th person and the sixth African to win the World Food Prize, also known as the “Nobel Prize for Agriculture” in 2017.
After serving as Minister, Adesina’s odyssey moved to the next stage, where he occupied the dignified position of the President of the African Development Bank (ADB) in 2015. With Dr. Adesina at the helm, the African Development Bank Group achieved the highest capital increase since its establishment in 1964 when, on 31 October 2019, shareholders from 80 member countries raised the general capital from $93 billion to a historic $208 billion. The African Development Bank Group responded boldly and swiftly to the Covid-19 pandemic. On 3 April 2020, the bank launched a landmark $3 billion Covid-19 Social Bond, followed by a Crisis Response Facility of $10 billion.
After his exemplary and extraordinary performance in his first term as the President of ADB, Dr. Adesina was unanimously awarded a second term of office in 2020. As a second-term President of ADB, the tireless efforts of Dr. Adesina to free Africa from hunger, poverty, and squalor continued exponentially. He kept on initiating and innovating strategies to woo investors in agriculture. His famous statement in 2020 when the Federal University of Abeokuta awarded him a Doctorate of Science is a very high point in mobilizing investment in Africa’s Agriculture. Adesina said, “Agriculture is the most important profession and business in the world” and that “the size of food and agriculture in Africa will rise to $1 trillion by 2030. He stated further that the African population will double to 2.5 billion from its present 1.2 billion by 2050. They all must eat, and only through food and agribusiness can this be achieved”. Furthermore, “ADB was spearheading efforts to feed Africa and was investing $25 billion over ten years to transform the continent’s agriculture sector.
Adesina is fast-tracking his efforts to feed Africa as the continent’s population grows exponentially. The least African leaders can do is to support the efforts of this illustrious son of Africa in his odyssey. May God continue to guide him to achieve more success. Amen.

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