Akinwumi Adesina, minister of agriculture and rural development for Nigeria. Photo by: Eric Roset / Africa Progress Panel / CC BY

Nigeria’s bet for the upcoming presidential elections at the African Development Bank is looking to agriculture to unlock jobs and transform the continent’s rural economies.

And that hardly comes as a surprise, given Akinwumi Adesina’s extensive agricultural background, from serving as vice president of policy and partnerships at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa to being at the driver’s seat of Nigeria’s agricultural transformation over the past few years.

As Nigeria’s agriculture and rural development minister, Adesina has been widely credited for bringing an end to — or at least reducing the risk of — corruption in the fertilizer industry by putting the private sector in charge of delivery. Nirsal, the agribusiness facility he introduced in 2011, is often cited as instrumental in getting banks to increase their agricultural lending.

The e-wallet system Adesina rolled out in 2012 has meanwhile generated interest from within Africa as well as from emerging donor countries, such as Brazil, China and India. The system was designed to cut off the middleman and provide the latest agrimarket information directly to farmers’ mobile phones, which also receive seed and fertilizer vouchers.

The goal is to provide mobile phones to 10 million farmers and, according to government data, more than 14 million have been registered into the system to date. And despite issues such as poor network coverage, low levels of awareness and insufficient fertilizer supply in some areas, Adesina said in his Forbes’ 2013 African of the Year acceptance speech that several governments have already expressed interest in adopting this innovation in their own countries.

But as he vies for the top position at AfDB, will Adesina be able to move ahead with his dream of making Africa a “global powerhouse” in food and agriculture?

Devex takes a closer look at the agriculture minister’s vision for the bank, and how he plans to make them happen.

Bring in the private sector

Adesina views the private sector as an important player in Africa’s agricultural industrialization — and his vision for AfDB reflects this. One of the strategic priority areas that he outlined in his vision for the financial institution is to “significantly” grow the bank’s private sector operations.

“It is not enough to lend for infrastructure; the critical question must be whether the infrastructure lending is driving clearly articulated and visible developmental outcomes.”

— Adesina on his vision for the AfDB.

The private sector accounts for 70 percent of all investments in Africa, he argues, and so the bank needs to be “more expansive” in this area.

To do this, he will prioritize the growth of small and medium enterprises, and support the emergence of African multinational companies by designing advisory services that would include reforms in a member country’s fiscal, regulatory and business environment, aligning the bank’s infrastructure projects behind this agenda, and providing incentives to financial intermediaries to boost lending to SMEs.

He also plans to provide new lending avenues to support emerging middle-income member countries that may no longer be eligible under the bank’s sovereign concessionary funding window.

Provide jobs to Africa’s youth

Youth unemployment is another area of focus for Adesina, which he cited as a factor driving more than half of Africa’s young people to engage in armed conflict.

If appointed AfDB president, he will mainstream job creation for youth and women as a “major deliverable” across the bank’s lending operations. Increased lending for SMEs for instance via financial intermediaries is expected to open more job opportunities.

He also plans to provide grants to universities and other tertiary institutions to help them better align their curriculum to market demands, and in the event address skills mismatch. Skills enhancement zones will be developed via public-private partnerships, in which businesses will be given fiscal incentives to employ graduates from these zones.

“I too have a dream. That soon our barns in Africa will be filled with plenty, our children will dance once again on our lush farmlands, when Africa finally becomes the global powerhouse in food — feeding itself and feeding the world.”

— Adesina in his acceptance speech in 2013 after being named Forbes’ Africa Person of the Year.

To get young people to also realize untapped opportunities in the agriculture industry, Adesina plans to work with member countries and create programs that would boost employment in the sector. His goal: create a large pool of young commercial farmers and agribusiness entrepreneurs.

In addition, he will support regional innovation centers focused on ICT development to build a pool of African business innovators, and aims to make use of the bank’s private sector arm to develop venture capital funds for young business entrepreneurs.

‘Sharp focus’ on women

Adesina underscores the importance of supporting women in his vision — more than half of Africa’s farmers are women — and plans to provide “special emphasis” on their needs by making sure the bank’s advisory services provide women access to markets and technologies, as well as relevant information and finance.

And to ensure this is properly taken into account, he proposes the development of an annual gender scorecard that will be used to monitor the bank’s work on gender equality across all of its projects and operations.

He also proposes to launch an African women empowerment index to measure the impact the bank’s work is having on women beneficiaries in all its operations.

Integrate infrastructure projects

Adesina does recognize AfDB’s strengths in infrastructure, but he envisions a more integrated infrastructure agenda under his leadership, where chosen projects are linked to each other to generate greater impact instead of “opportunistic or isolated, one-off infrastructure investments.”

For example, to further Africa’s agricultural potential in the rural areas, infrastructure projects would include irrigation, better roads that would link rural farmers to markets, energy and ICT connectivity.

He also emphasizes infrastructure for regional integration that could, in the long run, drive down costs in the movement of goods, people and services, and boost the economy of not just a few countries.

His top priorities for infrastructure are in the sectors of energy — including supporting the contentious Inga Dam project — the extractives industries, ICT and in cities as more and more people in Africa migrate to urban areas.

Invest in people

Adesina wants the bank to become “nimble and responsive,” moving faster into execution instead of staying too long in the planning stages, and plans to deepen the bank’s decentralization process so resources would be disbursed in a more timely manner.

His dream for the bank is for it to become the go-to institution for development in Africa — for which top-notch talent is needed. Last year, AfDB lost key personnel when it moved its headquarters from Tunis, Tunisia, back to Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

Under his leadership, Adesina will invest in measures to boost the skills of AfDB staff, including by introducing performance-based incentives, “nurturing” multilingual development professionals, and upgrading in-house competencies and capacities.

“The most important asset of the bank is its staff,” Adesina stressed.

Akinwumi Adesina is Nigeria’s third attempt for the AfDB presidency, and his experience certainly makes him a formidable candidate. Could third time be the charm for Nigeria? Share your thoughts below.

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About the author

  • Ravelo jennylei

    Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.