Akinwunmi Adesina: Steadily and Steely Feeding Africa
Prof MK Othman
Tenaciously in leadership style with a head high, Adesina is a replica of Indian Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi used a non-violent strategy to achieve free independence for his native country, India; Adesina was mobilizing human, financial, and other resources to feed Africa. Indefatigability in human salvation, Adesina is a replica of his mentor, Dr. Norman Borlaug, of blessed memory, a prestigious American scientist who covered a distance of 9,859 km to Asia and fathered the Asian Green Revolution, thereby saving millions of souls from ravaging and liquidating hunger in the late 1960s. Adesina has been tenaciously using his talent, position, and connection to empower smallholder farmers to multiply their food production for Africa and beyond.
Dr. Borlaug was awash with several awards, including the most prestigious Novel Peace Prize of 1970 and the 1977 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the 2002 Public Welfare Medal, and the 2006 Padma Vibhushan Prize, among several others too numerous to mention. All these global recognitions and accolades were made to Dr. Borlaug for his lifetime of work doggedly performed to feed the hungry world. Thus, he was nicknamed the "father of the green revolution."
Sometimes, someone makes a simple statement that intensifies vigor in achieving a goal quicker than imagined or making the unimaginable. That happened in 2006 when Dr. Borlaug told his mentee, Dr. Adesina, walking on 5th Avenue in New York, going to the Rockefeller Foundation. He said, "Akin, do you play soccer?" Dr. Adesina gave an affirmative response. Dr. Borlaug added, "You know that in soccer, you will not know you can win unless you score your first goal, go to Africa, and score the first goal for agriculture. Then, Africa will believe that it can feed itself in Agriculture". That was a clarifying moment, the inspirational motivation to conquer hunger and feed Africa. Since then, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina has been steadily and steely working hard to feed Africa without pausing, 24/7. From his position in AGRA, IITA, Nigeria's Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, to his current exalted position of President, African Development Bank, the most famous bank in Africa and one of the most successful in the world, Dr. Adesina's iron hands are tirelessly bringing more food to the tables of tens of millions of African households. This tribute is the odyssey of one man who gathers like minds to bring hope to the hopeless and food to hungry people. It is the story of Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, who is replicating the excellent job of Dr. Borlaug, his mentor, through initiatives, policies, projects, and programs to achieve food security and eradicate poverty in Africa.
To understand the need for Adesina's tenacious fight against hunger, one must understand the need to subdue hunger's menace against individuals, families, and nations. Buttressing this point requires Dr. Richard Berkland's statement, who said, "We must fulfill physiological needs before we can truly address and make progress on higher–level needs". Maslow's hierarchy of needs best illustrates this maxim, "we have to fulfill physiological needs (hunger, thirst, air), then move to safety (personal, financial security, health), move up to social needs, esteem, cognitive, aesthetic and finally to self–actualization." Therefore, hunger is a cataclysmic monster to humanity, and fighting it is the most desirable action. And society must not accept defeat in this life-and-death game. How has Adesina been feeding Africa, thereby fighting hunger?
Dr. Adesina was educationally well-grounded in African agriculture with the First-Class Honors of a Bachelor's degree in Agricultural Economics from Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria, in 1981. He pursued further studies at Purdue University, Indiana, up to the level of a Ph.D. in Agricultural Economics in 1988 and won the most outstanding Ph.D. thesis prize for his research work. He earned a Rockefeller Foundation (RF) fellowship and briefly worked with the organization in 1988. After his superb academic performance at American University, Adesina could have become one of the famous American professors but decided to be among the knowledge-driven hunger fighters in Africa. Consequently, Adesina joined the West African Rice Development Association (WARDA) in Bouaké, Ivory Coast, as a senior economist from 1990 to 1995. Adesina rejoined the Rockefeller Foundation from 1999 to 2003 as its representative in South African countries. He became its associate director for food security from 2003 to 2008. During this period, he organized the 2006 African Fertilizer Summit in Abuja, making him the most potent instrument for salvaging Africa from the shackles of hunger.
Dr. Adesina is an optimistic personality nicknamed "Africa's Optimist-in-Chief." A combination of Adesina's diplomatic mien, down-to-earth humility, social disposition, convincingly articulated-oratory, and optimism gathered a mammoth crowd of qualitative organizations and people at the Abuja summit. It was a unique assembly of African leaders, technocrats, and international and developmental agencies in one place under an amiable environment, all brainstorming to find a solution to the devastating situation of agriculture in Africa. With the support of RF, the African Development Bank, the African Union, and the World Bank, and motivation from his mentor's inspirational words, "until you score the first goal", Adesina used God-given assets to bring attention to the food crisis in Africa. The Summit identified problems and solutions to the challenges against food production in Africa. What are the significant outcomes of Abuja's Summit declaration?
The key highlight of the Abuja Summit was not only the presence of Dr. Norman Borlaug but also his presentation of the keynote address to the gathering of global leaders. During his keynote address at the age of 92, Dr. Borlaug emphatically challenged the African presidents and leaders that he wanted to see the happening of the Green Revolution in Africa before his death. The passionate words of Dr. Borlaug moved President Obasanjo, the chief host of the event, who broke protocol and jumped to the podium after the speech, announcing to the mammoth gathering of more than 1,000 that: "Norm has chastised us— and, so, we have to move forward and get our agriculture moving". The most memorable scenario kept inspiring serious-minded leaders like Dr. Adesina.
With impetus from the Abuja Summit, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and other global donors, it promulgated the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). The Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan served as Chairman, and Dr. Namanga Ngongi as President. AGRA is an organization that seeks to transform African agriculture from a subsistence model to strong businesses that improve the livelihoods of the continent's farming households.
After recognizing his principal role as a lead organizer in the conduct and success of the Summit, Adesina was saddled with the leadership role of coordination and management of AGRA. He was made Vice President of AGRA for Policy and Partnerships. His appointment galvanized the African financial Institutions to provide financial services to smallholder farmers. As Adesina scored more goals in AGRA, Dr. Goodluck Johnathan, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, appointed him Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. After four years of service as Minister of Agriculture in the most populous country in Africa, Adesina made tremendous success lifting tens of millions of Africans, particularly Nigeria, out of hunger and poverty. These famous efforts earned him the prestigious 2017 World Food Prize. These were the preliminary goal scorings before he advanced his goal-scoring skill when he became the 8th President of the African Development Bank. What are his feats in his odyssey to feed Africa? To be continued next week