In 2008, I was a roving reporter with The Market Magazine, a business and economy publication. As its foot soldier in Abuja, one of the beats I covered was agriculture.
There was an international agricultural summit organised by then Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, Dr. Abba Sayyadi Ruma, in partnership with the Central Bank of Nigeria and other stakeholders in the agro allied sector.
The event was well attended and attracted participants from within and outside Nigeria. As expected, the conference generated discussions on agriculture, rural development in particular and food security in general.
The summit also raised concerns about the future of agriculture and food security in Africa.
One of the participants at the conference was the then vice president, Policy and Partnerships, Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa, AGRA, with headquarters in Kenya, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina. He was one of the guest speakers. As I sat in the audience, listening to each speaker, Adesina stood out in his presentation. I told myself I needed to hear more from this Nigerian with an American ascent.
Once the opening ceremony came to a close, I positioned myself to spring an ‘ambush’ for Dr. Adesina. As he moved from the high table to the main exhibition hall of Sheraton Hotel, the venue of the event, I moved quickly as he walked out, followed closely by an aide.
‘Good afternoon sir!’ I greeted with the confidence and assurance of a journalist. He looked up and answered. ‘Good afternoon! How are you?’
‘I am very well. Thank you sir!’
Without wasting time, I introduced myself and made my request for an exclusive interview.
To cut a long story short, Dr. Adesina obliged me without any fuss. Sitting with me and his aide, I asked questions about his family, his academic background, career, Nigeria, Africa, women, youth, poverty, and unemployment. I asked about AGRA and what it was doing about Africa; about agriculture and how it could be used to end poverty, unemployment, and hunger.
Even though impromptu, Dr. Adesina spent more than 30 minutes answering frankly and passionately too, all the questions I asked.
I was spellbound by his passion and compassion for a new Nigeria and a better Africa. When I asked him about what should be done to make agriculture more impactful in Africa, he said: “Africa is the last frontier of the world economy. And only investment in agriculture is the sure way to positioning Africa towards realising its potential”.
With the chance interaction in 2008 and further research into the background and trajectory of Adesina, I formed impressions of him and keenly followed his activities at AGRA Kenya.
I was, therefore, not surprised when he was appointed Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in 2010 by then President Goodluck Jonathan. He brought the same passion and commitment to bear on the job. He introduced far-reaching reforms in the sector.
It was also heartwarming when Dr. Adesina transited seamlessly from his ministerial portfolio to president of the African Development Bank, AfDB. It is important to note that even though Nigeria is the largest shareholder of the AfDB, no Nigerian has ever led it, until Adesina was elected in 2015, thereby breaking the jinx of over 50 years.
Nigeria leads the 10 biggest shareholders with 9.1%; followed by US-6.5%; Egypt: 5.5%; Japan:5.4%; South Africa:4.9%; Algeria:4.1%; Germany:4%; Canada:3.8%; Ivory Coast: 3.7%, and France: 3.6%.
After more than a decade, my impression of Adesina, one of Nigeria’s brands on the global stage, has not changed. For me, he has remained true to those values and commitment to seeing a new Africa where there is opportunity for all and agriculture is considered as a business embraced by young men and women.
In the last 30 years, Adesina has been in the vanguard of ensuring security in Africa through the value-chain of agriculture.
While seeking to be president of the AfDB, he encapsulated his vision thus: “My vision is to help build a new Africa that iscprosperous, sustainable and inclusive; one that is peaceful, secure and united, regionally integrated and globally competitive. A continent filled with hope, opportunities, liberties and freedom, with shared prosperity for all. An Africa that is open to the world , one that Africans are proud to call home”.
In the vision statement tilted: ‘Building on the success of the African Development Bank and repositioning to effectively address emerging challenges’, Adesina promised to “build and consolidate on the remarkable gains already made by previous presidents of the bank and work closely with the bank’s shareholders to implement its strategic plan to position the Bank for even greater performance, efficiency and effectiveness in delivering transformational impact for Africa; catalyze and mobilize resources globally for the Bank Group and the continent through strategic partnerships; leverage the Bank Group’s market and concessional widows to ensure adequate financial resources are available to all regional member countries from the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the African Development Fund (ADF); nurture first rate multi-lingual staff at the bank with the skills required to usher in a new Africa; foster strong ethics, transparency, good governance and accountability within the bank to enable it become known as ‘Africa’s Bank for integrity’; ensure that the bank adopts a people-oriented approach, able to address and meet the needs of millions of Africans—a true development Bank for Africa; transform the Bank into a “go-to-institution” on development in Africa, with renewed and strong partnerships with its member countries, the African Union, the Economic Commission for Africa and Regional Economic Communities; and re-ignite the passion of the Bank’s staff to work diligently and selflessly to attain the mission of the Bank, to spur sustainable economic development and social progress in its regional member countries”.
He also highlighted five key interrelated strategic priority areas that are all linked to the Bank’s Ten Year Strategy and advances the implementation of the Africa 2026 Agenda of the African Union, namely: ‘integrated smart-infrastructure for productive growth and competitiveness, growing Africa’s private sector for industrialization and wealth creation, jobs for Africa’s youth and women, to turn Africa’s demographic dividends into economic dividends, reviving Africa’s rural economies for inclusive growth to transform and revitalize Africa’s rural economies through targeted investments to unlock Africa’s rich agriculture resources and value chains and generate wealth and regional integration for shared prosperity to ensure equitable growth and development for all regional member countries through transnational infrastructure , expansion of regional markets, good governance, peace and security.
As President of AfDB since 2015, Adesina has remained committed to those values – which is building a more secured African continent through the instrumentality of investment in agricultural sector and other sectors that will leapfrog Africa out of hunger, poverty, unemployment and make it a better place for the less privileged.
He said: “At African Development Bank, we are investing $24 billion under a new bold feed Africa initiative that will help the continent achieve food security within few years. We are already reaching out to millions of farmers. We expect to reach more than 25 million farmers.
To light and power Africa and provide universal access to electricity the bank is investing $45 to $50 Billion over five years.
Despite an outstanding first term, Dr. Adesina seems not satisfied. ‘There is still more to do to make the world a betterplace’, he says.
For him, there is no security that is more important than food security. It is at the core of human existence.
In February 2019, while giving his acceptance speech for the Sunhak Peace Prize for Global Leadership in Agriculture, Food Security, Transparency and Good Governance in Seoul, South Korea, the US trained agro economist, said that the world most work together to eliminate hunger and malnutrition. ‘Hunger’ , for Adesina, ‘is an indictment of the human race. ‘Any economy that claims growth without feeding its people is a failed economy… there must be political accountability for hunger around the world. A well fed and healthy population will work harder and be more productive. Lower prices for food will expand disposable incomes allowing households to save and investment in education and health of their children… the best infrastructure is not a road, it is not a port and it is not a rail-it is what I call ‘grey matter infrastructure.
Adesina’s timeless warning on the need to focus more on agriculture more than military align with the United Nations’ call for a shift from traditional approach to human security which place the centrality of human needs at the core of security such asfood security.
He emphasized the need for world leaders, ‘to find reasons to increase support for millions of the poor to feed our world’.
He said: “ today , the budget we spend on military far exceeds what we are putting to improve agriculture and feed ourselves….the world … cannot plough with guns; … and beans and rice seeds are needed more than bullets… (because) seeds give life, bullets end life.