Akinwumi Adesina endeared himself to unemployed and under-employed Africans — not just in Nigeria, but all over the continent — when he said his goal was to make as many millionaires, maybe even billionaires, from agriculture as possible.
In 2013 Forbes named him African of the Year for his reforms to Nigeria’s farming sector.
Clearly, his ideas for African agriculture go beyond Nigerian borders. He’s a big thinker, and one of eight candidates vying to be the next president of the African Development Bank.
Nigeria is betting on Adesina’s appeal, track record, and the African Development Bank looking to agriculture to unlock jobs and transform the continent’s rural economies.
Here are 12 things you need to know about Adesina’s race for the AfDB presidency.
Sources: ConsultancyAfrica, ThisIsAfrica, BBC, Devex, CNN, COVAfrica
New AfDB president will be announced this month
The African Development Bank will elect a new president at its annual general meeting May 25-29 in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. It will be one of the most important decisions for the institution and the continent, according to the bank’s website. The meeting will mark the bank’s 50th anniversary.
Big shoes to fill
The current African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka first gained international prominence for undertaking sweeping economic reforms as finance minister in post-genocide Rwanda. His 10-year presidency was considered highly successful, according to investment and risk mitigation firm Covington.
Kaberuka’s term ends on Aug. 31, 2015. Under his leadership, the AfDB made major improvements in delivery of critically needed infrastructure and technical advice, both of which contributed substantially to the sustained economic growth that Africa has seen in the past decade.
The 2015 candidates for AfDB president
In addition to Adesina of Nigeria, there are seven other candidates for president of the AfDB. These include: Sufian Ahmed (Ethiopia), Jaloul Ayed (Tunisia), Kordjé Bedoumra (Chad), Cristina Duarte (Cabo Verde), Samura Kamara (Sierra Leone), Thomas Sakala (Zimbabwe) and Birama Boubacar Sidibe (Mali).
The ideal next AfDB president will be a global visionary, an inspirational leader, and an outstanding manager, according to COVAfrica.
He or she must manage a multinational bureaucracy of 1,500 employees and billions of dollars in projects across Africa. The next AfDB president will take over at a critical time in the bank’s history. The AfDB’s strategy for 2013 to 2022 puts a special emphasis on fragile states, agriculture and food security, and gender.
What is the African Development Bank?
The African Development Bank Group (AfDB) is a development finance institution established to contribute to the economic development and social progress of African countries. It was founded in 1964 and comprises three entities: The African Development Bank, the African Development Fund and the Nigeria Trust Fund.
The AfDB’s mission is to fight poverty and improve living conditions on the continent through promoting the investment of public and private capital in projects and programs likely to contribute to the economic and social development of the region.
The AfDB lends money to African governments and private companies investing in regional member countries. It was originally headquartered in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, then moved to Tunis, Tunisia in 2003, due to the Ivorian civil war; before returning in September 2014.
Adesina has strong U.S. ties
Until his appointment as Nigeria’s agriculture minister in 2010, Adesina worked for the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) as vice president of policy and partnerships. AGRA was founded in 2006 and is funded by Bill Gates of Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
AGRA’s goals include doubling the income of 20 million African small farmers, reducing food insecurity by 50 percent in 20 countries and ensuring that at least 15 countries are on a path toward sustainable agriculture.
AGRA has its critics, who say it lacks local solutions for local problems, isn’t focused on structural issues facing female farmers and the biggie — it funds research on genetically modified seeds involving Monsanto. A large U.S. agri-business firm, Monsanto is one of the world’s top producers of genetically modified seed.
Critics say AGRA will force farmers to buy seeds from large corporations and cause farmers to lose control over their own seeds, according to ConsultancyAfrica.
Adesina has strong ties to philanthropy
Adesina went to work at the Rockefeller Foundation as a senior scientist in 1988. The U.S. philanthropic organization works “to promote the well-being of humanity throughout the world.” From 1999 to 2003 he was the Rockefeller Foundation’s representative for Southern Africa.
He’s won all kinds of awards
In July 2007, Adesina was awarded the YARA Prize for the African Green Revolution in Oslo.
In 2008, Purdue University’s College of Agriculture in the U.S. gave him its Distinguished Agricultural Alumni Award.
In 2010 he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Franklin and Marshall College, also in the U.S..
On May 5, 2015, he was awarded an Extraordinary Achievement Award by Silverbird Television, Nigeria.
Changing the image of agriculture
In a 2013 interview in ThisIsAfrica, Adesina said he wants to change the image of the agriculture sector, putting it at the forefront of national development. “Agriculture is the future of Nigeria,” he said. “And agriculture that is modernized, that is productive, that is competitive. We must be a global player.”
Adesina said that in the 1960s, before petroleum oil, Nigeria was one of the most promising agricultural producers in the world. Between 1962 and 1968, export crops were the country’s main foreign exchange earner. The country was No. 1 globally for palm oil exports, ahead of Malaysia and Indonesia, and exported 47 percent of all groundnuts, putting it ahead of the U.S. and Argentina. But its status as an agricultural powerhouse has declined.
He’s credited reducing corruption in Nigeria’s fertilizer industry
Adesina is credited with cleaning up 40 years of corruption in the country’s fertilizer industry — in 90 days. Now, rather than directly participating in delivering fertilizer, the government leaves that to the private sector and only provides subsidies.
He’s all about value addition to crops
Adesina said he wants to add value to “every single thing,” and he wants to start with cassava.
Nigeria is the world’s largest producer of cassava — 40 million metric tonnes per year — “but I want us to become the largest processor of cassava as well,” Adesina said in an interview in ThisIsAfrica. “We can focus on using cassava for starch, dry cassava chips for export to China, cassava flour to replace some of the wheat flour that we are importing. So we are restructuring the space for the private sector to add value to every single thing.”
Nigeria’s goal, he said, is to become an agriculturally industrialized economy.
He incentivized Nigerian banks to lend more money for agriculture
Adesina said only 2 percent of all bank lending in Nigeria was going to agriculture in 2013. This for a sector that generates 40 percent of gross domestic product and 70 percent of employment. The reason lending has been so low in agriculture in the past was because banks “could not find the money trail in the agriculture sector,” Adesina said in a ThisIsAfrica interview.
Adesina is credited with introducing Nirsal, an agribusiness facility started in 2011 that is often cited as instrumental in getting banks to increase their agricultural lending in Nigeria.
“What we have shown the banks is that agriculture gives as high and competitive a rate of return as other sectors if structured properly,” Adesina said. “But for banks to lend, we had to fix the agricultural value chain. Now the banks are all exploding on agriculture in Nigeria.”
He wants to make agricultural millionaires
In December 2013, Adesina was named Forbes African of the Year for his reforms to the country’s farming sector. He was chosen ahead of some of Africa’s most prominent business people, BBC reported. People like Aliko Dangote and Jim Ovia, also from Nigeria; Zimbabwe’s Strive Masiyiwa and South Africa’s Patrice Motsepe.
Although Nigeria is one of the world’s largest oil exporters, most Nigerians live in poverty, especially in rural areas.
In his Forbes acceptance speech, Adesina said, “My goal is to make as many millionaires, maybe even billionaires, from agriculture as possible.”
This is Nigeria’s third try for the AfDB presidency
Adesina is Nigeria’s third attempt for the AfDB presidency. His experience makes him a formidable candidate, Devex reported. In the upcoming AfDB bank presidential elections, Nigeria is betting on the bank looking to agriculture to unlock jobs and transform the continent’s rural economies.
His e-wallet system cut out the middlemen for Nigerian farmers
The e-wallet system Adesina rolled out in 2012 has generated interest elsewhere in Africa as well as from emerging donor countries such as China, India and Brazil, CNN reported. The system was designed to cut out the middlemen and provide seed and fertilizer vouchers directly to farmers, and up-to-date agrimarket information directly to farmers’ mobile phones.
Adesina set a goal of provide mobile phones to 10 million farmers. More than 14 million have been registered into the system to date, according to government data. Adesina said other governments expressed interest in adopting this innovation.
AfDB must benefit all Africans, not just a lucky few, Adesina says
In a guest column for CNN, Adesina described the AfDB as Africa’s equivalent of the World Bank. He said the AfDB must focus on building an equitable and inclusive model for growth in Africa to eliminate poverty and deliver prosperity for all, rather than for the lucky few.
“To accomplish that, we cannot continue with business as usual,” he said. “The AfDB must lead the way.”