Nigeria’s minister for agriculture - Purdue alum - chosen as Forbes Africa Person of the Year

Akinwumi Adesina
Akinwumi Adesina

December 3, 2013

Nigeria’s minister for agriculture, Akinwumi Adesina, is the 2013 recipient of the Forbes Africa Person of the Year Award for his work in creating opportunities for his nation's farmers to prosper in agriculture.

Adesina, who earned a master’s degree in 1985 and a doctorate in 1988 from Purdue University’s Department of Agricultural Economics, received the award during a ceremony in Nairobi, Kenya, on Monday (Dec. 2).

The award is given annually to the individual who has had the most influence on events in Africa during the past year. A press release noted that Adesina was nominated for his reforms, which have “empowered more than 6 million farmers across Nigeria, mostly women, to embrace
agriculture as a business and make a living from it. A passionate defender of African farmers, Adesina is relentless in unlocking opportunities for farmers and changing Africa’s narrative on agriculture to wealth creation, away from poverty reduction.”

Adesina’s initiatives have included the Growth Enhancement Support Scheme, which increased food production by 9 million metric tons in its first year, and the Electronic Wallet System, which speeds the delivery of subsidies for seeds and fertilizers to farmers and enables them to pay for farm inputs electronically.

His reforms have also provided job opportunities for Nigeria’s teeming youth population, creating more than 2 million new seasonal farm and non-farm jobs, halfway to meeting the 3.5 million target by 2015.

Jay Akridge, Glenn W. Sample Dean of the Purdue College of Agriculture, noted that Adesina in 2008 received the college’s Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award, which honors mid-career Purdue Agriculture graduates who have made significant contributions to their profession or society in general.

“Dr. Adesina represents the best of what we in Purdue Agriculture strive to achieve, and we are honored to claim him as one of our own,” Akridge said.

In an email to Purdue College of Agriculture administrators today, Adesina wrote: “African agriculture will not be the same again as agriculture — as a business — holds the key to lift millions of farmers into wealth.”

“I am not a billionaire or millionaire, and I don’t want to be, either,” he said during his acceptance speech. “My satisfaction is using agricultural business and finance innovations to turn Nigerian and African farmers and agribusinesses into millionaires and billionaires.”

Gebisa Ejeta, 2009 World Food Prize laureate, said the award is a testimony to Adesina’s leadership.

“What he has been able to accomplish in such a short period of time in Africa really speaks to his intellect, his vision and his focus,” said Ejeta, who served on Adesina’s master’s degree committee and worked with him on a professional basis with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.

“He was brilliant as a student, he did superb work in his thesis and in his classwork and now is proving to be a great leader in Africa, advancing agriculture as a livelihood and not just on a subsistence level,” Ejeta said. “He is helping unlock the potential of agriculture in Africa.”

Since taking office in 2011, Adesina has been a leader in moving agriculture away from being a donor-driven development aid activity to a business model based on the profitable commercial production of food, fiber and fuel, said Jess Lowenberg-DeBoer, associate dean of Purdue Agriculture and director of its International Programs in Agriculture.

“Africa is the last frontier for agribusiness, and Minister Adesina is a pioneer on that frontier," Lowenberg-DeBoer said.

Often referred to as Africa’s leading development entrepreneur, Adesina was appointed by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as one of 19 global leaders, along with Bill Gates, to help the world achieve Millennium Development Goals. Gates, who sits on the Eminent Persons Group that advises on Nigeria’s agriculture, called Adesina’s policies and reforms of agriculture “extraordinary.”

Adesina, in sharing his vision for a food-secured continent, said he dreams of a future “where Africa’s vast savannas are revived with crops; where large commercial and smallholder farmers co-exist and both prosper; where rail, road and port systems are improved; where open international markets enable more food to move from places of surplus to places of need; and where rising incomes bring millions of farmers into Africa’s emerging middle class.”

“I know the roadmap toward that vision for Africa is challenging, but we are already seeing progress, and we now have the confidence to achieve even greater results. For agriculture was Africa’s past, and in agriculture — as a business — lies Africa’s greater future.”

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