The 2017 World Food Prize means more than just an award to Nigerians. It is a well-deserved recognition of our countryman, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, who brought hope to Nigerian farmers, agriculture and the economy.
Adesina, now president of the African Development Bank, has been heralded as “Africa’s Norman Borlaug” in recognition of his tireless efforts to advance major policies that have supported millions of farmers across the African continent.
Dr. Norman Borlaug, the father of the “Green Revolution” and a 1970 Nobel Peace Prize winner, founded the World Food Prize in 1986 to “highlight and inspire breakthrough achievements in improving the quality, quantity and availability of food in the world,” according to the organization's website. The $250,000 annual award is now often referred to as the “Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture.”
With an early passion for agriculture, Adesina has devoted most of his life to serving rural farmers and increasing access to innovation for them. Through the E-wallet system he introduced as Nigeria's agriculture minister in 2012, he curbed the corrupt practices that had controlled the fertilizer distribution system for 40 years.
Adesina was not just a “farmer’s minister;” he is pro-access, pro-science and pro-change. He supports the use of improved technologies for agriculture. He was the first Nigerian minister of agriculture who vocally supported biotechnology. Although the anti-GMO activists criticized his efforts in supporting Bt cotton field trials, he remained steadfast and committed to transforming agriculture on the continent through his various initiatives, which increased farmers' yields and incomes.
When confronted by the anti-GMO movement, he will always ask: Do you expect us to fold our hands and do nothing and watch poor farmers go into such devastation? Those that want Africa to remain backward, with misguided anti-technology views, must not misinform us.
His passion and drive for change motivates us. His service to Nigerian farmers included promoting sensible and responsible use of modern technologies to address complex problems of plant diseases, pests, climate change and malnutrition. He made efforts to advocate for and adopt conventional breeding and biotechnology tools for safe, nutrient-enriched crops. His priority focus was on food security crops, such as pro-vitamin A cassava, orange-flesh sweet potato, drought-resistant maize, flood-resistant rice, bananas resistant to the virulent black sigatoka disease that can wipe out all of Nigeria’s and Africa’s bananas, and cassava varieties resistant to cassava bacterial blight, which could destroy Africa’s largest source of food.
This is one of my favorite quotes on his idea about the use of biotechnology in agriculture:
“Unless Africa uses modern technologies, our farmers’ output will remain low and we will remain dependent on others to feed us. That is definitely not the way to have food sovereignty. That will only deepen dependency on others. We must feed ourselves with dignity and we must use appropriate modern technologies to do so, give choices to farmers while preserving biodiversity, building environmental resilience, robust ecosystems and protecting the health and well being of our people”.
We are very proud of Dr. Adesina's achievement in winning the World Food Prize. We are empowered, strengthened and optimistic that his efforts for Nigerian farmers to have access to improved crops will be sustained.
The Open Forum On Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa, Nigeria Chapter, is a knowledge sharing initiative by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation.