A Minister First In The field

Forbes Africa
Published 9 years ago
A Minister First  In The field
  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.