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A Minister First In The field

Nigeria’s weak farming industry stands on the cusp of a new dawn thanks to a minister on a mission.




  1. Akinwumi Adesina

Nigeria’s minister of agriculture and rural development

Akinwumi Adesina is a man on a mission. As Nigeria’s minister of agriculture and rural development since 2011, his methodologies have rejuvenated and elevated a once comatose sector into an emerging economic El Dorado.

Once renowned for its peanut pyramids, cocoa, timber and oil palm exports, the last time Nigeria took agriculture seriously was in the 1950s, around the same time the country discovered crude oil.

Adesina is currently unleashing a positive shake-up on Nigeria’s agriculture ecosystem. His purposeful and transparent leadership has changed Nigeria’s agriculture governance, cleansing the Augean stables, attracting much needed investments and effectively reversing the social economics of the sector.

“I am a minister on a mission,” he told FORBES AFRICA in Abuja, Nigeria’s administrative capital.

“Our farmers have waited for too long for people to develop ways of creating wealth for them, and I am determined to unlock the enormous potential of agriculture in Nigeria.”

Unlocking that trapped potential has meant changing the perception of the sector as a development case and dumping the sector’s bad habits. Nigeria currently imports one billion naira worth of rice daily—that’s almost $2.5 billion annually—and even as the largest producer of citrus in Africa, and number two after China globally, it still buys citrus fruit and concentrate from around the world.

These acquired tastes for foreign foods showcase the opportunity and biotechnology gaps in the sector, which was worth $99 billion in 2012. Adesina believes he can grow Nigerian agriculture into a $230 billion wealth generator over the next five years and has embarked on a tropical wheat and rice revolution. The aim is to reduce Nigeria’s wheat bill by 50% and make Africa’s hungriest nation self-sufficient in rice by 2015. Many do not believe this is achievable.

Adesina is undaunted. He argues that there is plenty of space for expansion. Not more than 10% of Nigeria’s 84 million hectares landmass is optimally cultivated. For the first time in a while, Nigeria’s food import bill declined by $5.4 billion in 2012, far exceeding the set target of $2.2 billion. His Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) last year alone created 2.7 million jobs, added 9 million tons of additional crop output to current production levels and galvanized $4.8 billion into the economy.

“Agriculture is big business and my goal is to make as many millionaires, maybe even billionaires, in the long-term from agriculture as possible,” he says

“My vision for Nigeria’s agriculture sector is that we will use agriculture to produce stupendous amount of wealth; that the sector will be as productive, as efficient and competitive like that of Brazil and others… My dream is that we will become an agriculturally industrialized economy.”

He has curbed the endemic scam of fertilizer allocation and distribution in Nigeria. Faceless cabals in government had previously controlled and mismanaged agricultural subsidies.

“We ended the corruption of 40 years in exactly 90 days. I took the government totally out of the buying and selling of fertilizers; now it’s all private sector driven,” says Adesina.

He reckons that almost $4.9 billion of the over $5.4 billion spent subsidizing fertilizer between 1980 and 2012 has not been accounted for.

“Only 11% of fertilizers bought ever got to the farmers,” he says.

Most of Nigeria’s farmers now have electronic wallets, a scheme which allows them to access fertilizer information and supplies via their mobile phones.

Africa’s most populous nation has certainly benefited from Adesina’s professional acuity, experience and passion for change. He has put his global network and solid grasp of agriculture dynamics at his country’s disposal, helping to lay a solid foundation for Nigeria’s food production value chain. In retrospect, his appointment was a turning point for Nigerian agriculture. He knew that the absence of farmers’ records was antithetical to his big, audacious plans, so barely a few days on the job he promptly embarked on a nationwide farmers registration exercise.

“For decades Nigeria kept spending billions of naira on farmers that it didn’t know. Now, Nigeria is the first country in Africa to have a full biometric database of its farmers,” he says.

Around 15 million farmers have been captured on the database so far. Agriculture currently accounts for 44% of the national GDP.

Asked how he felt on being shortlisted for the FORBES AFRICA Person of the Year, he replied: “I was quite humbled by my nomination. It shows that FORBES AFRICA recognizes that value is more than money, that agriculture’s place in the country has changed forever, and that the most important thing about public service is the impact that we bring to the lives and livelihoods of millions of people… so the magazine’s recognition of that is exciting for me as a person. I am not a billionaire but I can certainly help to make others millionaires and billionaires…”

Adesina’s resume reveals his intellectual wealth and global positioning. He won the Rockefeller Foundation Social Science Research Fellowship in 1988, thereafter going to work and consult for some of the foremost agricultural institutions in the world. A globally recognized agriculture expert, he received a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics with first-class honors from the University of Ife, Nigeria, in 1981, and his PhD degree in agricultural economics in 1988 from Purdue University, USA, where he won an award for his research work. In 2009, he was appointed by the United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon as one of the 17 global leaders to spearhead the Millennium Development Goals. He remains an adviser to several international development agencies and African governments.

Adesina has revived trust and global confidence in the ability of Nigeria’s agriculture sector to fuel economic growth. As Nigerian banks queue to lend to Nigerian farmers using the government-backed Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES), international financial institutions have posted around $2 billion to support Adesina’s initiatives this year. The sector has also attracted $8 billion of private sector funds over the last two years.

“That covers fertilizer manufacturing, seed companies, food processing firms and so on… it’s never happened in Nigeria or in the history of any African country,” he says.

A new dawn has arrived on the door steps of Nigerian agriculture.

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Cover Story

Forbes Africa | 8 Years And Growing




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As FORBES AFRICA celebrates eight years of showcasing African entrepreneurship, we look back on our stellar collection of cover stars, ranging from billionaires to space explorers to industrialists, self-made multi-millionaire businessmen and social entrepreneurs working for Africa. They tell us what they are doing now, how their businesses have grown, and where the continent is headed. 

Since its inception in 2011, and despite the changing trends in the publishing industry, FORBES AFRICA has managed to stay relevant, insightful and sought-after, unpacking compelling stories of innovation and entrepreneurship on the youngest continent, in which 60% of the population is aged under 25 years.

 Many of those innovations have been solutions-driven as young entrepreneurs across the continent seek to answer questions that have burdened their communities.

 Always on the pulse, FORBES AFRICA has chronicled and celebrated those innovations – prompting the rest of the globe to pay attention and be fully engaged.

 A prime example of this is the annual 30 Under 30 list, which showcases entrepreneurs and trailblazers under the age of 30 from business, technology, creatives and sports. In 2019, we had 120 entrepreneurs on the list, finalized after a rigorous vetting and due diligence process to well laid down criteria.

 We have always maintained the highest standards of integrity in all our reporting.

 As we transition into the next milestone, FORBES AFRICA reflects on the words of civil rights activist Benjamin Elijah Mays, who once said: “The tragedy of life is not found in failure but complacency. Not in you doing too much, but doing too little. Not in you living above your means, but below your capacity. It’s not failure but aiming too low, that is life’s greatest tragedy.”

 With the transformation in the media landscape, the recent awards given to the magazine for the work done by a hard-working, determined and youthful team, serve as a reminder that we are doing something right.

 Early this year, FORBES AFRICA journalist Karen Mwendera received a Sanlam award for financial journalism as the first runner-up in the ‘African Growth Story’ category. In January, FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil, received the ‘World Woman Super Achiever Award’ from the Global HRD Congress.

 In reflecting on the last eight years, this edition revisits a few of the strong, resilient men and women who have graced our covers.

For some, fortunes have literally changed, as witnessed in the fall of gargantuan African empires such as Steinhoff. Of course, there have been massive moments of triumph too, which have seen some new names feature on the annual African Billionaires List. There have also been moments of tragedy with former cover stars passing away.

 Africa is ripe for the taking and is seen as the next economic frontier. The unique position the continent finds itself in will no doubt give FORBES AFRICA plenty to report on. Here’s to more deadlines and debates for the next eight years.

– Unathi Shologu

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Mastercard: Diligent About Digital In Africa



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Mastercard knows only too well that technology can drive inclusive financial growth with simpler and more efficient ways to do business and life. And Raghu Malhotra, the man spearheading this trajectory in Africa, is also focused on social progress.

In many ways, Raghu Malhotra is like the brand he works for, leaving his footprints in different parts of the world, and in some cases, the most unlikely corners.

On a scorching summer’s day in June 2016, Malhotra traveled 100km east of Jordan’s capital city Amman, to a camp with white tents named Azraq built for the refugees of the Syrian Civil War.

In the desert terrain and hot, windy conditions, people had to queue for hours on end for plates of food handed out of visiting trucks. But some of them, displaced and homeless overnight, expressed their gratitude to Malhotra, President for Mastercard in the Middle East and Africa (MEA).

Mastercard, a technology company that engages in the global payments industry, had distributed e-cards, as part of a global collaboration with the World Food Programme, to the refugees that they could now use to purchase food and other supplies from local shops.

READ MORE | The Big Bank Theory: South Africa’s Banks Of The Future

 “I spoke to the people myself and saw what their lives were… Even those who were doctors with their families and were displaced… They said to me ‘you have restored dignity to our lives; you have no idea how demeaning it is to queue up to be given food’… We actually digitized how that subsidy for food was given. Some of these things go beyond economics,” says Malhotra. 

Beyond economics.

That very simply sums up Malhotra’s mandate for Africa as well.

The New York-headquartered Mastercard, ranked No. 43 on Forbes’ list of the World’s Most Valuable Brands, with a market cap of $247 billion, which connects consumers, financial institutions, merchants, governments and business, is fostering key partnerships across the African continent to help drive inclusive economic growth.

The idea, Malhotra says, “is to get our global skill-set to operate in its most efficient form in every local economy, at the same time, we must do good, and it must be sustainable.”

He calls Africa the next bastion of growth for various industries.

“As a company, we have stated we are going to get 500 million new consumers globally. And Africa plays a big part of that whole story… We want to be an integral part of various economies here,” says the man responsible for driving Mastercard’s global strategy across 69 markets.

Raghu Malhotra President for Mastercard in the Middle East and Africa. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

“It probably took us over 20 years to get the first 50 million new consumers, in my part of the world, which is the Middle East and Africa (MEA). It took us probably five years to get the next 50 million, and last year alone, we put over 50 million consumers [in the formal economy] in MEA. That is part of our whole African story, so this is just not rhetoric; we are actually building our business on that basis.”

Home to four of the world’s top five fastest-growing economies, Africa has the fastest urbanization rate in the world, the youngest population, and a rapidly expanding middle class predicted to increase business and consumer spending.

It’s a continent of opportunity for global players like Mastercard with an eye on the potential of a booming consumer base and small and medium entrepreneurs, most of whom are still not a part of the formal economy. A large proportion of Africa is still unbanked. There is enough business opportunity in offering people digital tools so they can lead respectable financial lives.

READ MORE | The Monk Of Business: Ylias Akbaraly Talks About Secret To Success And Plans To Take Africa With Him

But it is in knowing that financial inclusion is not just about technology, but more about solving bigger problems, as the World Bank says in its overview for Africa: “Achieving higher inclusive growth and reaping the benefits of a demographic dividend will require going beyond a business as usual approach to development for Africa. Going forward, it is imperative that the region undertakes the following four actions, concurrently: invest more and better in its people; leapfrog into the 21st century digital and high-tech economy; harness private finance and know-how to fill the infrastructure gap; and build resilience to fragility and conflict and climate change.”

And in order to enable financial access, Mastercard has a balanced strategy in place, with the right partnerships for inclusive growth on the continent, Malhotra tells FORBES AFRICA.

“Every emerging market has different segments of people and you need to get the right product for the right segment. What we do is a balanced growth strategy across the continent based on timing, opportunity etc… Of course, because the bottom of the pyramid is much bigger, I think what we need is to adapt things differently; that is where the inclusive growth story comes from. That is where the opportunity is, but there is a second part to it…” And that, he summarizes, is advancing sustainable growth, doing good and bringing more transparency and efficiency.

The new pragmatic dispensation of governments in Africa towards ideas, technology and innovation has surely helped open up the stage to newer segment-driven products, especially as Africa already has such global laurels as Safaricom’s mobile money transfer and micro-financing service M-Pesa that took financial access to a whole new level. Also, sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the fastest-growing mobile markets in the world.

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Malhotra says he finds African governments consistent in how they are rolling out their digital vision, and in trying to collaborate towards creating better ecosystems for their economies, though each is unique with its own dossier of problems.

“When I speak to various governments around Africa, I see a commonality of what their needs are and I also see a commonality in how they are trying to respond. So I think a lot of them realize running cash economies is a very inefficient way of doing things… Also, the consumer base is much more open to new technology because there is no bedded infrastructure or legacy infrastructure. I think where governments need to start thinking a bit more is how much do they want to do completely on their own.”

Part of this transformation on the path to financial progress is alleviating the burden of cash. Cash still accounts for most consumer payments in Africa. Mastercard, which started out as synonymous with credit cards, continues its efforts to convert consumers from cash to electronic transactions, and move beyond plastic.

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Pioneer For Women In Construction Thandi Ndlovu has died




The cover of the August (Women’s Month) edition of Forbes Africa beautifully captures the essence of the woman I interviewed only a few weeks ago. Gracious, soft-spoken, brimming with life and energy. Dr Thandi Ndlovu impressed the entire Forbes crew on that afternoon cover shoot with her broad smile, and open yet powerful demeanor.

It is with great sadness that Forbes Africa heard of the accident that took her life on Saturday the 24 August 2019.

READ MORE |COVER: Feisty And Fearless Pioneers Thandi Ndlovu & Nonkululeko Gobodo

She had given so much to South Africa and its people – through the apartheid years and during the 25 years of democracy, literally building a better future, first through her medical practice at Orange Farm and then through her company, Motheo Construction Group and the scholarships for tertiary education granted by her Motheo Children’s Foundation.

That sunny winter’s afternoon, I asked her if she, at the age of 65, was considering retirement, and she laughed. A lively, amiable laugh. She told me she was healthy and strong and easily worked 12 to 13 hour days.

READ MORE | WATCH | Making Of The Women’s Month Cover: Thandi Ndlovu & Nonkululeko Gobodo

She loved hiking, and has climbed Kilimanjaro twice, reached the base camps of Mount Everest and Annapurna in Nepal. At the time of the interview, she was training to climb Machu Picchu, the famed ruins in Peru’s mountains.

One of her biggest passions was to make a difference in people’s lives and to motivate people to achieve the best they could. The other was to redress the racial tensions that still remained in South Africa.

Dr Thandi Ndlovu, South Africa is poorer for your passing.

-Jill De Villiers

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