World Food Prize won by African Development Bank president
THE son of a Nigerian farm labourer, who rose out of poverty to earn graduate degrees in agricultural economics, and spent his career improving the availability of seed, fertiliser and financing for African farmers, is the winner of this year’s World Food Prize, announced Monday.
Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank, said the future of global food security relies on making farming in Africa a profitable business, and developing local food processing that adds value to agricultural products to help move farmers out of poverty.
“I believe that what Africa does with agriculture, and how it does it, is not only important for Africa but for how we’re going to feed the world by 2050, because 65% of all the uncultivated arable land left in the world is in Africa,” he said.
“To help Africa get it right in agriculture is also going to be a key part of securing food for the world.”
World Food Prize President Kenneth Quinn, a former United States ambassador to Cambodia, said those goals are one reason the organisation’s board chose Adesina this year for the $250,000 (RM1.07 mil) prize.
An official announcement for the prize was made at a ceremony at the US Department of Agriculture in Washington, with USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue hosting the event. Adesina, 57, works in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, where the African Development Bank is based. He will receive the prize in a ceremony on Oct 19 at the Iowa Capitol.
“Dr Adesina knows that our work is not done. The challenge of feeding nine billion people in just a short time will continue as we address the hunger issue,” Perdue said.
“At USDA we keep that in mind, as the world population grows and we want to be a huge contributor in providing the food needed to resolve and to supply the global demand for that vital noble resource.”
The World Food Prize was created by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Norman Borlaug in 1986, to recognise scientists and others who have improved the quality and availability of food. The foundation that awards the prize is based in Des Moines, Iowa.
The award recognises several of Adesina’s accomplishments, including: Negotiating a partnership between commercial banks and development organisations to provide loans to tens of thousands of farmers and agribusinesses in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana and Mozambique; creating programmes to make Nigeria self-sufficient in rice production and to help cassava become a major cash crop, while serving as Nigeria’s minister of agriculture from 2011 to 2015; helping to end more than 40 years of corruption in the Nigerian fertiliser and seed sectors by launching an electronic wallet system that directly provides farmers with vouchers. The resulting increased farm yields have led to the improvement of food security for 40 million people in rural farm households.
Adesina said it’s vitally important to show young people in rural regions of Africa that farming can be profitable, and can improve their lives, as a way to stem terrorist recruitment efforts.
He said high unemployment among young people, high or extreme poverty, and climate and environmental degradation all contribute to conditions in which terrorists thrive. These factors make up “the disaster triangle”.
“Anywhere you find those, you find terrorists operating. It never fails,” he said.
Adesina grew up in poverty in a rural area of Nigeria and said his father and grandfather worked the fields as labourers. After his father was chosen for a government job, Adesina was able to go to college. He earned agriculture economics degrees – both a master’s and a doctorate – from Purdue University in Indiana.
As a student, he saw that classmates were able to attend school when agriculture afforded them the opportunity, but dropped out when it didn’t. So he learned that making agriculture profitable, so families can provide their children with an education, was a key to breaking the poverty cycle.
Adesina said he often thinks of the hundreds of millions of young, rural Africans whose opportunities are limited because of what is happening with agriculture.
“So in a way for me this is not a job,” he said.
“This is a mission. And I believe that in getting agriculture to be a business – turning our rural areas from zones of economic misery to zones of economic opportunity – lies the future of Africa’s youth, especially rural youths.” – AP
Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank, is the son of a Nigerian farm labourer, who rose out of poverty. — AP