Akinwumi Adesina, a former Nigerian agriculture minister – and currently the president of the African Development Bank has been awarded the World Food Prize for his contributions to increasing productivity in that country’s agricultural sector.
A list of Adesina’s achievements as minister of agriculture from 2010 to 2015 spans several pages.
However, for the World Food Prize, the focal point was his introduction of the Electronic Wallet (E-Wallet) platform to Nigeria’s food production and distribution chain.
Through the E-Wallet, Adesina pioneered a new way for the Nigerian government to deliver subsidized farm inputs, such as fertilizer and seeds, to local farmers through private agro-dealers.
The farmers, in turn, get to redeem these subsidized inputs from the agro-dealers using e-vouchers, which they can access through their mobile phones.
To implement the platform, Adesina initiated a Growth and Enhancement Support Scheme (GES). He powered the scheme by orchestrating the successful registration of more than five million Nigerian farmers, whose information and mobile phone numbers were added to the GES database.
The database, coupled with the E-Wallet, now allows Nigerian farmers to receive directly from the government everything from fertilizer to high-yield rice seeds and palm oil seedlings.
In the past, such subsidized inputs would have bypassed the farmers and fallen into the hands of black marketers who would have sold the inputs on the open market or in neighboring countries. According to the World Food Prize, through the E-wallet Adesina succeeded in breaking the “back of corrupt elements that had controlled the fertilizer distribution system for 40 years.”
The platform also helped solve other previously intractable problems in the way of commercial large scale food production in Nigeria.
For example, the country’s paddy rice farmers, through the E-Wallet, were able to receive from the government award-winning, high yield NERICA rice varieties, which saw their output rise from five to six tons per hectare. Thousands of paddy farmers producing a consistent grade of rice soon created the opportunity for several agro-based companies to switch from rice importation to local rice production, and standardization of the country’s rice output led to large private sector investments in rice milling.
The World Food Prize compares the spread of Adesina’s efforts in scale to the “Green Revolution” work of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug. In the 1970s and 1980s, Borlaug introduced high-yield dwarf wheat to Latin America and Asia, spawning “Green Revolutions” on two continents.
As other African countries start to adopt E-Wallet platforms to get subsidized inputs – and even financial services – directly to their farmers, the World Food Prize claims Adesina’s E-Wallet is “sparking a Borlaugian ‘Take It to the Farmer’ revolution across Africa.”
In his more recent job as president of Africa’s premier multilateral development finance institution, the African Development Bank (AfDB), Adesina embraces the continent’s “youth bulge” both as an opportunity and a resource in working for economic transformation.
Africa’s labor market is expected to absorb 11 million youths every year for the next decade. Despite rapid growth in formal wage sector jobs, the World Bank estimates that most of the continent’s young people “are likely to work on family farms and in household enterprises, often with very low incomes.”
Adesina wants to drive Africa’s economic transformation by empowering the continent’s youth population and making agriculture the hottest startup sector for young people. To achieve this goal, he wants to change the perception of agriculture in Africa from being a survival activity to a vehicle for wealth creation; from a hobby to a business.
It therefore came as no surprise when Adesina, halfway through his acceptance speech for the World Food Prize, declared to the crowded room in the American Midwestern city of Des Moines that “there will be no rest for me until Africa feeds itself, and for that we need the youth.”
“Even though I don’t have the cheque in my hand right now,” he continued, “I hereby commit my quarter of a million dollars… prize award to set up a fund fully dedicated to providing grants, fellowships and financing for the youth of Africa in agriculture as a business.”
Adesina’s vision for Africa’s youth and agriculture becomes prescient as the world’s geopolitical winds shift the focus of policymakers.