Why Adesina’s Election is Important for Agriculture

By Marshall L. Matz, as published in Agri-Pulse

In a surprise upset, Dr. Akinwumi (Akin) Adesina was elected to be the next President of the African Development Bank (ADB), defeating seven rivals in six rounds of voting.  Adesina holds a PhD in agriculture economics from Purdue and has been serving as the Minister of Agriculture in Nigeria since 2011.

Adesina is the first agriculture economist to become President of the ADB.  He is a dynamic leader with a passion for rural development (and bow-ties).  According to The Guardian, under his leadership in Nigeria, “food production increased by 22 million tons and food imports dropped more than a third,” creating some three million jobs.

The ADB is one of Africa’s largest lending institutions, making Adesina one of the continent’s most prominent financial leaders. Africa now has six of the world’s fastest growing economies and, as agriculture becomes more efficient, the economy will grow even faster. Over 65% of the population farms or is engaged in agriculture. However, yields are so low that feeding a family takes 70% the its disposable income and Africa must spend $35 billion to import food.

Adesina’s goal is to make Africa globally competitive.  Upon his election he said, “A big thing for us in Africa is to create an inclusive model with jobs for Africa’s youth, jobs for Africa’s women, revive Africa’s rural areas and have regional integration for shared prosperity.” He also noted that “there is no developing Africa without empowering women.”

The challenge Adesina faces will not be easy.  Political stability varies widely in Africa’s 54 sovereign nations as does infrastructure, education and health care, but things are clearly changing and changing fast.

Adesina will have some important allies to work with in his new capacity:

  • The Chairperson of the African Union, Dr. Nikosazana Diamini- Zuma, is asking all African countries to invest at least 10% of their respective national budgets in agriculture.  The program, called the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), is having an impact.
  • Dr. Agnes Kalibata, the new President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) holds a doctorate from the University of Massachusetts in entomology.  She was the Minister of Agriculture in Rwanda and was widely considered to be one of the most successful agriculture ministers in sub-Saharan Africa.  At AGRA, Dr. Kalibata is working with African experts in some 18 counties to fulfill the vision of food self-sufficiency.
  • Strive Masiyiwa, the Chairman and CEO of Econet Wireless, is the “Bill Gates of Africa” according to Forbes, but is focusing the attention of Africa’s private sector on agriculture through his work with AGRA and Grow Africa.
  • Former Secretary General Kofi Annan, Chairman Emeritus of AGRA,  says “it’s time to turn hoes into tractors,” and is committed to helping through the Kofi Annan Foundation.

These African leaders are working closely with the G-7, G-20 and key leaders closer to home here in the United States. Those leaders include: Gayle Smith, who is an Assistant to President Barack Obama and Senior Director at the National Security Council. In that capacity, Smith is responsible for global development and helped to craft the Camp David Accords creating a commitment to African agriculture.

During the Clinton Administration, Smith was Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council.  President Obama has now nominated Smith to be the next Director of the Agency for International Development (AID). Smith is well-qualified for the AID position and hopefully, the U.S. Senate will quickly confirm her nomination.

While there are many others committed to growing Africa out of poverty, in the U.S., special recognition must also go to Pamela Anderson at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Judith Rodin at the Rockefeller Foundation.

All of these people are coming together for Africa. The Renaissance is underway and the election of Dr. Akin Adesina is the latest very important development. According to Dr. Adesina, “The kind of Africa we need today is an Africa where the young people want to stay, not a place they want to move away from…and an Africa we can all be proud to call home.”

As Adesina knows, agriculture development must be at the center of the African Renaissance. As modern seeds and inputs, along with education, reache the stallholder farmers, production and profitability will improve. That will drive the African economy to new levels of success and, in the process, move Africa and the world toward food security.

The African Development Bank made an inspired choice.

Marshall Matz specializes in agriculture and food security at OFW Law in Washington, D.C.  He also serves as the DC representative for the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

Global Food Security

By Marshall L. Matz, as published in Agri-Pulse

Agriculture is a business, a very big business.  Whether you look at net farm income, agriculture exports or the number of people employed in the farm and food value chain, agriculture is big business by any criteria.

As the Old Testament tells us, however, agriculture is more than just a business. Agriculture is special. Agriculture provides the basic sustenance for all of us and we have an obligation to help the hungry.

It is, therefore, very troubling that according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) there are still 842 million people, or one in eight, who are suffering from chronic hunger or food insecurity. FAO defines food insecurity as not getting enough food to conduct an active life. This is a lower number than the 868 million reported a few years ago and the number of undernourished has fallen by 17 percent since 1990-92.

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) is the largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide, providing food to more than 97 million people in 80 countries last year. WFP crosses some of the toughest terrain on the planet to get food to hungry people. On any given day, WFP operates an average of 50 aircrafts, 30 ships and 5,000 trucks. With its own fleet of airplanes, ships and logistics staff, the WFP staff frequently risk their lives to reach those with the highest risk of starvation.

WFP also provides school meals to more than 24 million children each year. School meals help to improve children’s nutrition, ability to learn and life chances. School feeding also gives poor families an incentive to send children to school, especially girls.

School lunch program in Kibera, Kenya

School lunch program in Kibera, Kenya

Food insecurity, compared to “hunger” is a more complex condition. According to the FAO, its dimensions are a series of indicators including food availability, access, utilization and stability. Asia has the largest number of hungry people (over 500 million) but Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence (24.8 percent of population). Three-quarters of all hungry people live in rural areas, mainly in the villages of Asia and Africa. Overwhelmingly dependent on agriculture for their food, these populations have no alternative source of income or employment.

FAO calculates that around half of the world’s hungry people are from smallholder farming communities, surviving off marginal lands prone to natural disasters like drought or flood. Another 20 percent belong to landless families dependent on farming and about 10 percent live in communities whose livelihoods depend on herding, fishing or forest resources.

The remaining 20 percent live in shanty towns on the periphery of the biggest cities in developing countries. The numbers of poor and hungry city dwellers are rising rapidly along with the world’s total urban population.

This brings us full circle. In order to dramatically decrease food insecurity, we need to help smallholder farmers boost production.

“Half of those who are food insecure are smallholder farmers.”

–Rick Leach, President, WFP-USA

Howard Buffett hit the nail on the head when he said, “Small-scale farmers play a crucial role in fighting global hunger and poverty, both for their own families and for the regions in which they live.” For that reason, the effort to help smallholder farmers is fast becoming the focus of attention in the fight to eliminate food insecurity:

  • Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, supports country-driven approaches to address the root causes of hunger and poverty. Through this Presidential initiative, the United States is helping countries transform their own agricultural sectors to grow enough food to sustainably feed their people.
  • In 2012, the G-8 (now G-7) committed to working with our African and other international partners to launch a New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in order to accelerate the flow of private capital to African agriculture, take to scale new technologies and other innovations that can increase sustainable agricultural productivity, and reduce the risk borne by vulnerable economies and communities.
  • The African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) program is urging all African governments to invest at least 10 percent of their national budgets in agriculture.
  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation‘s agricultural development strategy is “premised on a hypothesis that it is possible for smallholder farmers to double and in some cases even triple their yields in the next 20 years while preserving the land. Increased productivity growth will contribute to overarching goals of hunger and poverty reduction.”
  • The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa is focused on assisting smallholder farmers across Africa.

According to the Office of Food Security at the State Department, we need to increase global food production by 70 percent before 2050. Women make up the majority of the agricultural workforce in many areas of the world. Yet today, for every investment we make in producing food, we fail to get the best results because MANY women lack the access they need to land, seeds, water, credit and markets.

The 2013 Millennium Development Goals Report says that the target of halving the percentage of people suffering from hunger and food insecurity is within reach. That is correct; with concerted action by national governments, international partners and the private sector focused on smallholder women farmers, the hunger target can be achieved.

The bottom line is that assisting smallholder farmers boost production is the key to both reducing food insecurity and at the same time improving economic development and political stability.  Africa, in particular, is on the cusp of dramatic change as it has over half of the world’s underutilized agricultural land.  We can do this!

Marshall Matz specializes in agriculture and global food security at OFW Law in Washington, D.C. He serves on the Board of Directors of the World Food Program—USA and the Congressional Hunger Center.  Before entering private practice, Marshall was General Counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Counsel to the Senate Committee on Agriculture. mmatz@ofwlaw.com