Dr. Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina, the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB) who was the Nigeria’s past Agriculture minister will be recognized as the 2017 World Food Prize Laureate. The monetary reward that comes with this award is $250,000.
Through his roles over the past two decades with the Rockefeller Foundation, at the newly established Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), and as Minister of Agriculture of Nigeria, Dr. Adesina has been 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.
Born February 6, 1960 in Ebadam, Nigeria, Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina was the second of four sons born to Roland Folorunso Adesina and Eunice Adesina. He grew up in a one-room house without electricity or plumbing and slept side-by-side with his brothers on mats on the floor. Although his grandfather and father worked as farm laborers, his father was eventually able to receive some education as a teenager, which led to employment as a civil servant and provided the means to send his own sons to school. Roland told his son that education was a way out of poverty, a “leveler.”
Adesina attended a village school rather than a city school because his father thought it was important for him to see the reality of rural poverty experienced by smallholder farmers and their families. This was a defining period for the young Adesina as he learned early in life about the crucial link between agriculture and livelihoods. His father told him, “You never know what you’ll become in life. If you rise to a position of influence, then having known poverty first-hand will place you in a better position to help the poor.”
He applied to the University of Ife in Nigeria where he studied agricultural economics and completed his Bachelor’s of Agriculture degree at the top of his class. Adesina met his wife Grace in a Christian fellowship group at the university, and they married in 1984. The couple has two children, Rotimi and Segun.Adesina went on to earn both his Master’s (1985) and Ph.D. (1988) in Agricultural Economics at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, USA. The Purdue graduate years were at times financially difficult for Adesina and Grace, but several professors and their families provided friendship, mentorship, and helped sustain them. In 2015, Purdue recognized Adesina with an honorary doctorate.
From 1990 to 1995, Adesina served as Senior Economist at WARDA (West African Rice Development Association, later known as Africa Rice) in Bouake, Cote d’Ivoire – where Dr. Monty Jones (2004 World Food Prize Laureate) was breeding new rice varieties known as NERICA. Later, as Minister of Agriculture, Adesina brought this “new rice for Africa” to Nigeria, which resulted in significant increases in rice production that helped the country become self-sufficient in rice. He next served as Senior Economist at IITA (International Institute for Tropical Agriculture) in Ibadan, Nigeria from 1995 to 1998.
In 1998, he was recruited to join the Rockefeller Foundation as Senior Agricultural Scientist in New York, and a year later he was appointed the first Director of the Foundation’s newly opened Southern Africa Regional Office in Harare, Zimbabwe. In 2002, he became Rockefeller’s Associate Director, Food Security.
An early initiative of Adesina’s was his development of the concept of agro-dealers. Working with international and local NGOs, he helped design a selection, training, and certification process that converted small village shop owners selling sodas and soap into small agro-dealers who sold seeds, fertilizers, and other inputs, and advised farmers on their proper use. The success of the agro-dealers initiative convinced Adesina that local, private-sector entrepreneurs could play a major role in serving farmers and empowering agricultural development.
Adesina supported local NGOs to take this model to scale, and over a ten-year period, he met with numerous presidents across Africa to convince them to adopt the “agro-dealers” model and advised them on how to structure policy reforms.
At the beginning of his tenure at Rockefeller, he received an inspirational challenge that has remained with him ever since. It came from Dr. Norman Borlaug. As the two of them walked together down Fifth Avenue in New York, discussing plans for Rockefeller’s outreach to Africa, Dr. Borlaug asked him if he played soccer. Borlaug then said he hoped Adesina would become a winner in vanquishing the foe of hunger and poverty, telling him to “go score some goals for African Agriculture!”
The YARA Prize (2007) for Adesina’s leadership in pioneering innovative approaches to improve access to agricultural inputs for African farmers.
The CAST Communication Award (2010) for his role as a distinguished scientist, leader, and communicator who worked passionately for Africa’s Green Revolution.
The Forbes Africa Person of the Year Award (2013) for his bold reforms in Nigeria’s agriculture sector, which empowered farmers across Nigeria to embrace agriculture as a business.
Drawn to action in terms of policy reform, financial innovation and enhanced agricultural production, Dr. Adesina organized the 2006 Africa Fertilizer Summit, as part of the Rockefeller Foundation; led a major expansion of commercial bank lending to farmers as Vice President of the nascent Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA); and as Minister of Agriculture in Nigeria, introduced the E-Wallet system which broke the back of corrupt elements that had controlled the fertilizer distribution system for 40 years, earning him the reputation as the “farmer’s Minister.” His reforms over five years led to dramatic increases in Nigerian food production and farm incomes.
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.
Adesina led Nigeria’s rice revolution by supporting the private sector to grow rice varieties, including NERICA varieties originally bred by Dr. Monty Jones at the West Africa Rice Development Association (for which Jones received the 2004 World Food Prize), that produced high yields, and had exceptional nutritional quality and palatability. Farmers increased production to five to six tons of rice per hectare with the improved varieties. As well, Nigeria built its own rice milling facilities, which added value to the increased yields, and also created jobs.
Adesina’s E-Wallet system sparked a Borlaugian “Take It to the Farmer” revolution across Africa. Global financial institutions such as the World Bank, UK Department of International Development, African Development Bank, International Fund for African Development and the European Union began supporting the scaling up of this program into other African counties and beyond.
As President of the African Development Bank since 2015, Adesina has continued to work with government and business leaders to ensure that, from smallholder farmers to agribusinesses, all can be helped to grow and prosper.
He has declared a major goal to end malnutrition and stunting, an affliction caused by chronic under-nutrition during critical developmental periods early in life that affects over 40 percent of children in Africa. In his words: “The greatest infrastructure to build isn’t a road or a rail or a port, as important as those are. The most significant infrastructure is brain power.” To that end, he co-founded the African Leaders for Nutrition Panel with John Kufuor, the 2011 World Food Prize Laureate and former President of Ghana.
His vision of an Africa that will one day have the capacity to feed itself is, in Adesina’s own words, a “big vision that will require political will and commitment from the private sector.” He has set the direction and “put the stakes in the ground” as he constantly reflects on what Norman Borlaug used to say to him using an analogy to football (soccer): “Akin, go score some goals for African Agriculture!”
Congratulations! Dr Akinwunmi Adesina.