Could the future of food in the world depend on what Africa does with agriculture? According to 2017 World Food Prize Laureate and President of the African Development Bank, Akinwumi Adesina, the answer is a resounding yes!
Addressing a standing room only crowd of global agriculture experts at the FAO headquarters in Rome last week, Adesina says he believes Africa does not need aid, but rather disciplined investments. According to this grandson of a subsistence farmer, he says the time has come to view investment and development opportunities in Africa through a totally different lens.
With over 800 million people worldwide suffering from hunger and more than 2-billion affected by malnutrition, food insecurity remains a real threat to global development.
Adesina, who is making a global pitch for renewed visionary leadership and strategic alliances, “the future of food in the world will depend on what Africa does with agriculture.”
The African Development Bank, which he leads, envisions a food secure continent which uses advanced technologies, creatively adapts to climate change, and develops a whole new generation of what he describes as ‘agripreneurs’ – empowered youth and women who he expects to take agriculture to the next level.
By 2050, an additional 38-million African will be hungry. The paradox of lack in the midst of plenty, and Africa’s growing youth bulge are some of the reasons why Adesina’s sense of urgency is resonating with numerous government, private sector, and multilateral leaders during recent European and Asian trips. The banker and 2017 World Food Prize Laureate will be the first to admit that he considers himself the “evangelist-in-chief” for a food secure Africa.
Africa continues to import what it should be producing, spending $35-billion on food imports each year, a figure that is expected to rise to $110-billion in 2025 if present trends continue.
A few days later, Adesina joined Rockefeller Foundation President Raj Shah, Unilever CEO Paul Polman, and 2018 World Food Prize nominees Lawrence Haddad and David Navarro, among other prominent global academic, development, and agriculture experts at Wageningen University and Research, in the Netherlands, to make the case for urgent collective action by State and non-State players to accelerate Africa’s agricultural growth and transformation.
Africa receives only 2% of the $100-billion annual revenues from chocolates globally. Adesina tells his audience that “adding value to what nations produce, is the secret to their wealth. Producing chocolate instead of simply exporting cocoa beans does not require rocket science.”
To expand opportunities for youth, women, and private sector players, Adesina is on a global mission to promote and seek support for the bank’s Affirmative Finance for Women in Africa (AFAWA) program which aims to mobilize $3-billion to support women entrepreneurs who historically lack access to finance, land, and land titles; a $300-million ENABLE Youth program to develop the next generation of agribusiness and commercial farmers for Africa; and a new global investment marketplace, the African Investment Forum, which will be held in Johannesburg November 7-9.
In separate meetings with Sigrid A.M. Kaag, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, in the Hague; Peter van Mierlo, CEO of the Dutch Entrepreneurial Development Bank (FMO), key private sector players, and members of the Dutch Foreign Affairs Advisory Council, Adesina said Africa and its partners must seize unprecedented opportunities for innovative partnerships and increased development impact.
Mierlo believes, “a huge benefit for Africa is that it can skip development cycles that often almost all developed countries had to go through, by deploying new technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics in agriculture”.
In a continent where more than 640-million are without electricity, Adesina says the private sector is key to Africa’s development in Africa’s energy and agriculture sectors.
“If Africa is going to turn the tide of irregular migration, this is critical. There are three ways in which we can collaborate: either through the NEPAD Infrastructure Project Preparation Facility, Africa 50 – a private equity institution which has raised more than US$-850 million from 22 countries, and the new Africa Investment Forum.”
Adesina recognises that the lack of electricity is Africa’s biggest development impediment. The Bank’s new and ambitious Desert-to-Power initiative which aims to generate 10,000MW of power across Africa’s Sahel region will be critical to reducing migration and climate change impacts. “We will do this through a blended finance mechanism with guarantees,” Adesina says.
Speaking to a High-level Roundtable of Dutch Business Leaders at the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO), informed key private sector leaders that “governance structures and business regulatory environments are changing in Africa. Indeed, several African countries have already made significant progress in improving their general business and investment environments. Africa is doing better than some of the Asian countries,” he reminded his audience. “In the energy sector, the African Development Bank is investing $12 billion over the next 5 years, with the goal of leveraging $40-50-billion; and an additional $24-billion, over ten years, in agriculture to implement its Feed Africa Strategy.”
The strategy is already bearing fruit with the establishment of Staple Crop Processing Zones in several African countries, including Ethiopia, Togo, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mozambique, with a plan to reach 15 countries in a few years.
Strategically located in and around rural farming communities Adesina says “these agriculture zones will form the nucleus of a new wave of agro-industries and greenfield ventures, attracting agripreneurs, biotechnology firms, intellectual and capital investments. They will also ensure that foods are processed and packaged right where they are produced, rather than in urban centers far removed from centers of production.”
Described as a visionary optimist by many colleagues, Adesina believes the bank’s policies and investments will help turn rural areas from zones of economic misery into zones of economic prosperity.