In the lead up to the 2013 Borlaug Dialogue,
the Skoll World Forum is featuring several keynote speakers writing at
the nexus of three subjects central to the global challenges we face in
the 21st century: biotechnology, sustainability, and climate volatility.
The 2013 Borlaug Dialogue takes place October 16-18 in Des Moines,
Iowa. View the full series here.
As Nigeria’s Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr.
Akinwumi Adesina is championing agricultural investments in one of
Africa’s fastest growing economies through bold policy reforms.
Much is said about a rising Africa on the global
economic stage. To be sure, there is a new energy and dynamism across
the continent. It can be seen in an emerging middle class, improved
governance, and a heightened interest by foreign investors. But amidst
this excitement, there remains a disturbing paradox. Africa is a
continent with enormous potential for agricultural growth, yet one where
food insecurity and malnutrition are widespread and persistent.
Agriculture is fundamental to every country’s prosperity, security
and sovereignty. In the United States, farmers, processors, researchers
and policy-makers at all levels work together to promote and ensure a
vibrant agricultural economy. The result is that Americans enjoy not
only an abundant food supply, but also nutritional choices and
affordability. Africa is now beginning to understand the critical link
between agriculture and prosperity. In Nigeria, we’re making agriculture
the new oil.
Nigeria was largely self-sufficient in food in
the 1960s. Then, we discovered oil and became too dependent on this
resource as the economic driver of growth, export income and
development. We abandoned our farmers. Yields stagnated. Investments in
infrastructure were redirected. Rural communities slid into poverty. We
became a food-importing country, spending an average $11 billion a year
on wheat, rice, sugar and fish imports alone.
And yet we have an abundance of resources – 84 million hectares of
arable land, two of Africa’s largest rivers, and a large and young
workforce to support agricultural intensification. Plus we have 167
million consumers to support increased food production and processing.
But potential alone is not enough; we had to find a way to unlock it.
We needed a major transformation of our agricultural sector. The change
had to be across the entire value chain – from field to mill to table.
So in 2011, we launched the Agricultural Transformation Agenda, with the
goal of adding 20 million metric tons of food to the domestic supply by
2015. And in the process, create 3.5 million new jobs in agriculture
and food-related industries.
Our first decision was to stop looking at agriculture as a
government-run, charitable development program across rural Nigeria. We
now treat agriculture as a business. Government’s role is simple: to
create the enabling environment, policies and incentives for a private
sector-led transformation to flourish.
Our focus would be on creating eco-systems in
which small, medium and large-scale farmers would not only co-exist, but
flourish together. We would do more than plant new fields. We would
also create value-added foodstuffs from our staple crops through an
aggressive import-substitution program and policies that would encourage
new investment in food production and promote agriculture
sustainability and resilience. We needed to begin to think of, and
instill in others, the concept of agriculture as a business.
We ended four decades of corruption in the
fertilizer and seed sectors. We took government out of a distribution
system that benefited an elite group of farmers at the expense of
Nigeria’s smallholder farmers.
We also launched a Growth Enhancement Scheme to provide subsidized
inputs to farmers. And we developed an Electronic Wallet System which
has allowed 5 million smallholder farmers to receive subsidized
electronic vouchers for seeds and fertilizers on their mobile phones.
Nigeria is the first country in Africa to develop and use mobile phones
to reach farmers with subsidized farm inputs.
Today seed and fertilizer companies are selling directly to farmers,
not to the government. Supply chains are being developed to reach
farmers in rural areas. Banks are loaning money to companies and agro
We have set a target to become self-sufficient in rice by 2015 by
providing quality seeds, fertilizers and other support to our rice
farmers. In just one year Nigeria unleashed a rice revolution and
produced more than 50 per cent of all its rice needs. Private sector
responded with 14 new industrial-scale rice mills, making high-quality
local rice available on the market.
We are reducing our yearly $4 billion wheat import cost through a
cassava flour substitution policy to replace imported wheat flour with
high-quality, home-grown cassava flour in producing bread. The
government is supporting private sector investment in large-scale
cassava processing plants. We are also developing the cassava value
chain by producing starch that can be utilized in sweeteners to reduce
The result of these combined efforts is that
Nigeria will meet its food production targets. In the first year of our
transformation push, we reached almost half of our five year food
production target. We also reached over 75 percent of our job creation
The UN recently recognized Nigeria for meeting the Millennium
Development Goal #1, reducing the population of hungry people by half,
three years ahead of schedule. We did this by growing more food, raising
farm incomes and creating jobs in farming and food processing – not
simply by managing poverty. This is a new dawn. Agriculture was
Nigeria’s past; and in agriculture – as a business- lies Nigeria’s