by Chi Ibe
Yesterday, Forbes Africa announced Akinwunmi Adesina, Nigeria’s agriculture minister as Forbes Africa Person of the Year 2013. He was given the prize for his historic reforms in Nigeria’s agriculture sector, beating a strong field including former Zenith Bank chairman, Jim Ovia and Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote.
‘He is a man on a mission to help Africa feed itself’, said Forbes Africa editor Chris Bishop.
The award ceremony took place yesterday, 2 December 2013, at the Villa Rosa Kempinski Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, and below is the full text of his acceptance speech:
I wish to immensely thank Forbes for the huge honor of being selected as Africa’s Forbes Person of the Year. I thank all who have encouraged me along the way in my career and life: my parents who taught me the virtue of living selflessly to help others, my dear wife, Grace, who is my bosom friend and partner without whom I would not be here today, my very hard working staff in the Ministry of Agriculture in Nigeria, Nigerians who encourage me each day – and countless friends and people around the world whose encouragements spur me on.
Above all, I thank God and my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for giving me the grace to serve him and to be an instrument of change to improve lives of others.
I am honored and delighted to be here today, on a global stage where the world is celebrating Africa’s agriculture.
Today is not about me, it is about what I stand and work tirelessly for: the new future for Africa, one where the continent is able to feed itself, unlock its agricultural potential and use agriculture as the new driver of growth and prosperity.
Ours is a beautiful continent, blessed of God with rich and abundant lands, good rainfall, and cheap labor, to be able to feed ourselves and the rest of the world. But potential is not enough. We must unlock this potential.
That is what we started to do in Nigeria, when two years ago I was appointed as Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture. I was one of the assets of Africa in the diaspora, contributing my share to solving food problems globally, and especially in Africa, when President Goodluck Jonathan graciously called me back home to help chart a new course for Nigeria’s agriculture.
So started what has become the largest ever government-supported but private sector driven transformation of agriculture on the African continent. We changed the lenses with which we looked at agriculture, away from agriculture as a development program, to agriculture as a business. Poverty cannot be the comparative advantage of Africa and Africa cannot become a museum of poverty.
We launched the Agricultural Transformation Agenda to add an additional 20 million metric tons of food to our domestic food supply and create 3.5 million jobs within the agricultural sector.
It was a run against time, as our farmers for decades have waited for long for their fortunes to be turned around. We ended four decades of corruption in the fertilizer sector, within 90 days of my being appointed Minister of Agriculture. We ended the old corrupt system of government buying and selling fertilizers and seeds and unleashed the power of the private sector.
To reach farmers directly and cut off the middlemen and rent seekers who for decades have disempowered farmers, we turned to the power of mobile phones and launched the Electronic Wallet (E-Wallet) scheme for farmers. Under the E-wallet scheme, farmers get electronic vouchers for seeds and fertilizers on their own mobile phones, which they use to purchase farm inputs directly from the private sector companies.
It has been a remarkable success. Within two years, we reached 6 million farmers directly using the mobile phone farm input delivery system, improving the food security of some 30 million persons in rural farm households. Women farmers, who never got seeds and fertilizers under the old system, have a new fortune, as the e-wallet system empowered them and raised their food production. Dignity was returned to farmers.
The farmers produced an additional 9 million metric tons of food, almost half of the food production target we set for 2015. The number of private sector seed companies grew from 10 to 70 within one year. Over $ 7 billion of investments from Nigerian businesses – including from Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote – have been made to develop new fertilizer manufacturing plants, which will make Nigeria the largest producer and exporter of fertilizers in Africa.
Nigeria is the first country in Africa, and in the world, to develop the electronic wallet system for reaching farmers with subsidized farm inputs on mobile phones. The impact is reaching well beyond Nigeria. Several African countries, India, Brazil and China have expressed interest in adopting the electronic wallet system in their own countries. How significant a change is this? I will tell you: Nigeria, which used to be paraded as having one of the most corrupt fertilizer sector systems, is today exporting transparency!
The shift to agriculture as a source of wealth has ignited new private sector investment drive across the agriculture value chains. Over the past 24 months, we have attracted $ 4 billion in private sector executed letters of commitment to invest in our agricultural value chains, from food crops, to export crops, fisheries and livestock.
Today, Nigeria’s milling capacity for rice has expanded by 300% within two years, and with our increased production of paddy rice, we expect to be self-sufficient in rice in a few years. We are turning our comparative advantage as the world’s largest producer of cassava into competitive advantage. Our goal is to soon become the largest processor of cassava in the world, with the use of cassava for flour to substitute for wheat in bread and confectionaries, starch, sweeteners, chips and ethanol.
Banks are lending to agriculture today in Nigeria than ever before. Agriculture lending as a share of total bank lending rose from 2 percent to 6 percent within two years. The Central Bank of Nigeria, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Agriculture have unleashed a financial revolution by reducing the risk of lending to the agriculture sector. Bank lending to seed and fertilizer companies and small agricultural input retailers rose from USD 22 million in 2012 to USD 125 million in 2013 – an increase of 468% in lending. It is remarkable that the default rate has been zero percent.
The narrative has changed in Nigeria: agriculture is now a business, as we are rapidly fixing our agricultural value chains and reducing risks facing businesses.
I wish to immensely thank our President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, for having faith in a new generation of leaders. His passion and leadership inspire us that we can achieve even greater results.
The youth are responding, with many leaving the banks and financial institutions to turn to the farm. They recognize that nobody drinks oil, but everyone eats food – and that they, as young entrepreneurs, hold the key to feeding Nigerians, as we embark on our boldest effort to feed ourselves and become a global powerhouse in food.
Over 60% of the arable land left to feed the world is in Africa. So, this is Africa’s time and only agriculture can secure this as Africa’s time. I too have a dream. That soon our barns in Africa will be filled with plenty, our children will dance once again on our lush farmlands, when Africa finally becomes the global powerhouse in food – feeding itself and feeding the world. I can almost hear our farmers and their children singing: better at last, better at last, thank God Almighty, our lives are better at last! For agriculture was Africa’s past and in agriculture – as a business – lies Africa’s greater future.
Thank you and God bless you all.