Minister of Agriculture on Research to Feed Africa
Speech Delivered by Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, Honourable Minister of
Agriculture of Nigeria at the High Policy Dialogue on “Research to Feed Africa”,
September 1, 2014, Sheraton Hotel, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Excellencies, Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, Good morning!
I wish to thank the President of IDRC, Jean Lebel for inviting me to give this key note
address, and Pascal Sanginga, my former brilliant PhD student, for organizing this
session. I thank you both for your strong support for the Africa Green Revolution
Forum (AGRF) when I approached you for the inaugural Forum in 2009. Here we are,
years after and AGRF is going strong!
IDRC has been a key supporter of the green revolution in Africa, with globally
renowned leadership and support for decades on research, human capacity
development, especially to ensure that benefits of research reach farmers, including
women, and those in marginal areas. Your work at IDRC, and those of other
development partners and national governments and research centers present today,
are more crucial than ever before.
The population of Africa is estimated to reach 2.4 billion by 2050. With rising
population, demand for food will increase. The challenge will be how to raise
agricultural productivity, feed this population, while not degrading the environment.
The challenge is enormous: Sub-Saharan Africa will need to increase crop production
by 260% in order to feed this projected population. This cannot be achieved unless
there are significantly higher levels of investment in agricultural research, science and
technology. That is why this policy dialogue organized by the International
Development Research Center (IDRC) is timely.
I will be sharing with you my perspectives on some of what is needed, as a researcher
and policy maker, drawing on my personal experiences of over 25 years in the drive
to ensure that Africa feeds itself and contributes to feeding the world.
Africa has enormous agricultural potential. About 65% of the arable lands left to feed
the 9 billion people in the world by 2050 are in Africa. We must unlock this potential.
To do so, we must make a fundamental shift in how we see agriculture. Agriculture
must not be seen as a development program. Agriculture is a business. And
agricultural research must take this business perspective. Policy makers too must
change and develop policies to take technologies to scale for farmers.
A great part of what I do today as Minister of Agriculture, in feeding the most
populous African nation, draws from my research experience and practical lessons
learnt in the field. Early in my career at the International Crops Research Institute for
the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in the earl
charged with promoting high yielding short statured varieties of sorghum to farmers.
Convinced we had a solution for farmers, we went to Southern Mali to promote the
new high yielding varieties. The head of the village took us on a tour around the
village and opened one granary after the other and behold they were filled to the brim
with sorghum. To him the problem was not additional production but how to get
market for the sorghum, as he asked whether ICRISAT buys sorghum. It was a lesson
that changed my perspective on how to achieve impacts with research. What mattered
here was not the supply driven technical change but the development of markets for
Our focus must be on the imperative of creating markets for farmers, taking a whole
value chain, and investing in new product development to add value to crops. Unless
this is given priority farmers will take up new technologies and price for their farm
products will decline. From that experience, as researchers we worked on how to use
sorghum for different products to expand markets. Today in Nigeria, Uganda and
Kenya sorghum is used to replace malt in the brew
of the Foundation, and later from its own funds. After four years, the bank found it
had lost only $4,500. We had proved a point: that lending to small farmers is not as
risky as Banks think in Africa. The Bank eventually lent $20 million of its own
money to farmers and built up a portfolio of investments to support the banana value
chain in Uganda.
As Vice President at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, I led a team of my
colleagues to use innovative financing instruments to leverage banks in Kenya,
Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana and Mozambique to lend over $100 million to small
farmers and input retailers. In Nigeria, we designed the risk sharing facility for the
Central Bank of Nigeria, which leveraged $3.5 billion of lending from the balance
sheets of banks to agriculture value chains. In all these cases, the default rates by
farmers and agribusinesses has been less than 2-3%, and in the case of Nigeria it has
been 0% for the past three years.
The lesson is clear: greater focus should be put into the use of innovative finance
instruments to reduce the risks financial institutions face in lending to agriculture.
Solving this financial imperative will help drive the uptake of products of agricultural
research, raise returns to agricultural research investments and drive sustainable
growth of the agriculture sector. Science and technologies alone are not enough. We
must also fix financial markets to make science work for the poor.
All across Africa, many gains are being made in the use of improved agricultural
technologies, from high yielding bean varieties in Rwanda, sorghum and millet
hybrids in Niger and Mali, drought and striga tolerant maize in Ethiopia, Kenya,
Tanzania and Zambia. The green revolution is ramping up farm production. But a
significant share of the expanding farm harvest is lost due to poor post harvest
systems, and estimates show that this can be as high as 30-40% depending on the
crop. The total annual post-harvest grain losses in Sub-Saharan Africa have been
estimated at $ 4 billion. Reducing these losses will boost agricultural output and food
security. There is need now for greater research investments to improve product
handing, storage, and post-harvest processing and food safety so that the benefits of
research reach consumers.
No challenge is greater for research in Africa today than how to support farmers to
adapt to climate change. Climate change will substantially reduce yields of crops,
livestock and fisheries, and lead to decline in farm output, farm incomes and worsen
poverty and vulnerabilities. There is need to develop heat, drought and flood tolerant
crops, forages that can cope with heat stress, animals with high stress tolerance levels,
while policies should focus on improving adaptation for farmers. Improved land and
water management will become even more important, as well as the use of agroecological
approaches. It is imperative for governments, researchers and the wider
development community to build resilience into agricultural value chains. Public
policies should support farmers to take up crop and li
beyond the reach of many poor farmers. We must not abandon farmers in the face of
Despite all the gains being made, malnutrition remains a perennial problem. Eighty
percent of the world’s stunted children live in just 14 countries, of which eight are
in Africa. Today there exist bio-fortified crops such as pro-vitamin A cassava, orange
flesh sweet potato, high iron beans, which are being grown by farmers in Nigeria,
Rwanda, Kenya and Mozambique. Of the 1.5 million farming households now
growing bio-fortified food crops, 1.4 million are in Africa. So, the challenge is no
longer the science of bio-fortification. We know it works. Our challenge as policy
makers now is to build up demand and scale up bio-fortified crops to reach millions of
households. To achieve this, we must address supply and demand side issues,
including policy, institutional, regulatory and financing of nutrition.
The future of Africa depends on what we do with our kids today. A hungry child
cannot learn and a malnourished kid will become brain impaired, with low-income
earnings in the future. The greatest contributor to economic growth is not physical
infrastructure but brainpower or “grey matter infrastructure”. We must ensure that no
child in Africa goes hungry.
Africa has come a long way with successes in the transformation of its agriculture
sector through agricultural research. The seeds of change are everywhere all across
the continent. With the remarkable political support of the Africa Union, restated
commitments of African Presidents during the Malabo Summit to give priority to
agriculture, dynamism of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, and
commitment of the CGIAR and our national agricultural research systems, Africa will
feed itself. National governments, development finance institutions and donors should
significantly increase support for agricultural research. And we must build
partnerships with farmers – especially women and youth. We must support agriculture
– it pays!
As we build greater farm harvests and raise incomes of farmers, Africa’s rural
economies will boom. Millions of people will be lifted out of poverty into wealth.
Then you will hear Africa’s children singing: “better at last, better at last, thank God
Almighty our lives are better at last”. Together, we can make this happen.
Thank you and God bless you all.
Speech downloaded from Here