The president of the African Development Bank is Nigeria’s own Akinwumi Adesina. The former minister of Agriculture and Rural Development was elevated to this position at the bank after his tenure in the ministry of Agriculture, back in Nigeria.
This Nigerian professional was born in Ibadan, Oyo State, on February 6, 1960. His father, Chief Roland Adesina, who died this year, was an accountant with the Western Regional Government before he retired in 1979. He earned a first-class honours Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economics from the University of Ife, Nigeria. He then went on to complete a PhD in Agricultural Economics at Purdue University in the United States, in 1981. His PhD thesis at the university was so outstanding he won an award for his research work.
Adesina’s work career began at the West African Rice Development Association (WARDA) in Bouaké, Ivory Coast, where he worked for 6 years as a senior economist. Ahe however launched his international career in global agricultural development when he won the prestigious Rockefeller Foundation Social Science Post-Doctoral Fellowship in 1988.
Between 1999 and 2003, he served as the representative of the foundation for the southern African area. The next big move was to the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) a multi-million dollar collaboration between the Rockefeller and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations. Here, Adesina resumed as Vice President (policy and partnerships). In this capacity, he led several policy and innovative finance initiatives, leveraging about $4 billion in bank finance commitments, one of the largest global efforts to redirect domestic bank finance towards Africa’s agriculture sector. These funds were ploughed into boosting soil fertility, seed availability and improving market access for smallholder farmers.
Adesina also spent time as principal economist and social science research coordinator of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and as assistant principal economist at the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). He was also the president of the African Association of Agricultural Economists between and 2010, shortly before he became Nigeria’s minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, a portfolio he held from 2011 to 2015.
During his tenure as minister of Agriculture, Adesina was responsible for spearheading the reform of a near-comatose agricultural system by introducing more transparency into the fertilizer supply chain and bringing up innovative ideas such as giving farmers mobile phones. As a result, Nigeria ended 40 years of corruption in the fertilizer sector by developing and implementing an innovative electronic wallet system, which directly provides farmers with subsidised farm inputs. This electronic wallet system reached 14.5 million farmers within the first few years of its implementation. Adesina was also able to successfully attract $5.6 billion in private sector investment commitments as he changed the view of Nigerian farmers from subsistence farming to commercial farming.
As minister, Adesina was widely regarded as a friend of the youth. In his team, he employed superstars like Ada Osakwe and Debisi Araba to advice on policy. The result of their work can be seen in initiatives like the election-friendly, Youth Employment in Agriculture Programme (YEAP) which aimed to deploy 740,000 market-oriented young agricultural producers in rural areas.
YEAP also attempted to develop university graduates through a scheme called Nigerian Agricultural Entrepreneurs (Nagroprenuers). This was conceived to help young agribusiness entrepreneurs to develop businesses along the entire agricultural value chain. From the farm, storage, processing and value addition, financial services and logistics, young people were encouraged to get in.
As his thematic areas continue to widen, he remains committed to agriculture, and the daunting challenge of achieving a green revolution on the continent will continue to keep him awake at nights.
Adesina began his tenure as the president of AFDB at the bank’s headquarters in Abidjan on September 1, 2015 and will serve an initial five-year term. He is the eighth president in the organisation’s history and the first Nigerian to serve as president of the bank.
Being a distinguished development economist and agricultural development expert with 25 years of international experience, he continues to influence the Nigerian economy, especially during the economic recession. He launched a strategy based on energy, agriculture, industrialisation, regional integration and bettering Africans’ lives, a move approved by the banks board of directors.
Adesina has received a number of global awards for his leadership and work in agriculture. In 2010, United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, appointed him as one of 17 global leaders to spearhead the Millennium Development Goals, along with Bill Gates, the Spanish Prime Minister and the President of Rwanda. In 2013, he was named as Forbes African Man of the Year for his reform of Nigerian agriculture.
In 2017, he was awarded 2017 World Food Prize. While receiving the laureate that year, Adesina donated the $250,000 he received to the development of African youths in agriculture.
His selection as the 2017 World Food Prize Laureate reflects both his breakthrough achievements as minister of Agriculture of Nigeria and his critical role in the development of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
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