This year's World Food Prize has been awarded to African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina, for his work to improve the lives of millions of small farmers across the African continent — especially in Nigeria, where he was once the agriculture minister.
Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation, based in Des Moines, Iowa, said the $250,000 award reflected Adesina's "breakthrough achievements" in Nigeria and his leadership role in the development of AGRA — the nonprofit Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.
For example, Quinn said, "our laureate introduced the E-Wallet system, which broke the back of the corrupt elements that had controlled the fertilizer distribution system for 40 years. The reforms he implemented increased food production by 21 million metric tons and led to and attracted $5.6 billion in private-sector investments that earned him the reputation as the 'farmers' minister.'"
Adesina is the sixth African to win what some consider the Nobel Prize for food and agriculture. He will accept the prize in October in the Midwestern state of Iowa, where farming is a mainstay of the economy.
As president of the African Development Bank, the 57-year-old economist said he is honored by the recognition of decades of work, but he noted to VOA that the challenges ahead in Africa are quite immense.
"The big issue is how we're going to make sure that 250 million people that still don't have food in Africa get access to food," Adesina said. "The other one is, we still have 58 million African children that are stunted today and, obviously, stunted children today are going to lead us to stunted economies tomorrow."
Almost 30 percent of the 795 million people in the world who do not have enough to eat are in Africa, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
While Africa imports $35 billion worth of food every year, Adesina says the money spent on food imports should instead go into food production.
"Our task ahead is to make sure that Africa fully feeds itself," the bank president said. "That Africa conserves that $35 billion and Africa transforms its rural economies and creates new hope and prosperity for a lot of the young people."
Agriculture as 'cool' career
Adesina said he has worked to promote agriculture as a "cool" career for young people, so they can see their future in agriculture as a business, not just a way of life.
Gold lying in the ground in the rough can look like a clump of dirt, and won't look like the extremely valuable metal it is unless it is cleaned and polished, Adesina said, and "that's how it is with agriculture."
"The size of the food and agribusiness market in Africa will rise to $1 trillion by 2030," he added, "so this should be the sector where the millionaires and billionaires of Africa are coming out of."
The African Development Bank launched an almost $800 million initiative last year called "Enable Youth." The aim, Adesina said, "is to develop a new generation of young commercial farmers in both production, logistics, processing, marketing and all of that, all across the value chain."