Nairobi, Kenya — Nigeria's Minister for Agriculture, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, was awarded the prestigious Forbes Africa Person of the Year defeating four other
prestigious nominees for this continent wide prize.
"I am truly honoured and humbled by this prestigious award but the candidates who really deserve to be here on this platform with me tonight are much worthier than us all – and these are the new cadre of young, business guru's across Africa who have discovered the hidden gem for sustainable wealth creation on our continent - Agriculture," said Adesina.
"They too should be celebrated for acting on their conviction that with dwindling oil fortunes, and with the end of the telecoms boom, the next big investment thesis has to be
the need to feed Africa's fast growing population."
Adesina who was nominated for his bold reforms in Nigeria's agriculture sector has empowered more than six million farmers across Nigeria, mostly women, to embrace
agriculture 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.
Within two years of his taking office, Adesina turned agriculture away from being a development program into a business activity generating wealth for millions of farmers.
"I am not a billionaire or millionaire, and I don't want to be either," he said. "My satisfaction is using agricultural business and finance innovations to turn Nigerian and African farmers and agribusinesses into millionaires and billionaires. Indeed, with the likes of men like Aliko Dangote, Africa's richest man, going back to the farm too, it is no surprise that this is happening. Who wouldn't want to be a billionaire?"
His Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GES) ended four decades of corruption in the fertilizer sector, eliminating the middlemen and scaling up food production to nine million metric tonnes in the first year -almost half of the 2015 production target. To further enhance this process, he introduced an Electronic Wallet System which allows smallholder farmers to receive electronic vouchers for subsidized seeds and fertilizers directly on their mobile phones and enable them to pay for farm inputs from private sector agricultural input dealers.
The system has reached over 6 million farmers and enhanced food security for 30 million persons in rural farm households especially women farmers - who never got fertilizers and seeds for decades under the old government system - now having better yielding fields with subsidized farm inputs received on their mobile phones. Chairperson of Nigerian Women Farmers Association Mrs Lizzy Igbine, said of the Minister "We have never seen any Minister who works so hard to improve our lives. He has returned dignity to us as farmers".
With the success of the electronic wallet system, Nigeria has become the first country in Africa to reach farmers with subsidized farm inputs through their mobile phones. The impact is already being noticed beyond Nigeria with several African countries, Brazil, India and China now expressing interest in adopting the electronic wallet system in their agriculture sectors.
Adesina has championed African agriculture for over two decades, defending the poor and helping several African countries to develop innovative solutions for reaching millions of farmers with finance, farm inputs and supportive policies.
His reform in the agricultural sector has provided job opportunities for Nigeria's teeming youth population, creating over two million new seasonal farm and non-farm jobs, half way to meeting the 3.5million target in 2015.
In recognition of Nigeria's reforms and progress, global and domestic investors have signed over USD 4 billion of executed letters of investments to boost Nigeria's agriculture. The World Bank, African Development Bank and other global development finance institutions have put up over USD 2 billion in support of his bold initiatives.
"Adesina has totally revolutionized agriculture into a business, and banks and private investors are all moving to the agriculture sector. He has made agriculture very exciting,
turning it into Nigeria's new oil" said Tony Elumelu, Chairman of Heirs Holdings.
Often referred to as 'Africa's leading development entrepreneur', he was appointed by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon as one of the 19 global leaders, along with Bill Gates, to help the world to achieve the Millennium Goals. Bill Gates, who sits on the Eminent Persons Group that advises on Nigeria's agriculture, called Adesina's policies and reforms of agriculture "extraordinary".
Sharing his vision for a food secured continent, Adesina 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.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," he added.