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Akinwumi Adesina Emerges 2017 World Food Prize Laureate

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The President of African Development Bank, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, has been named the 2017 World Food Prize Laureate for his work as a reformer and leader of the agricultural sector across Africa.

The World Food Prize, which has become known as the Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture, is the highest international honor recognising the achievements of those who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity and availability of food in the world.

Adesina is the 46th recipient and the sixth African to be so honoured. Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, President of the World Food Prize, made the announcement on Monday (June 26) at the ceremony held in Washington, D.C, at which Sonny Perdue, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, delivered the keynote address.

The 2017 World Food Prize Laureate Award Ceremony will be October 19 in the Iowa State Capitol Building in Des Moines. Adesina will receive the $250,000 prize and his award at the Laureate Award Ceremony and then deliver his laureate address during the Borlaug Dialogue, to be held the day after the ceremony.

Announcing the new Laureate, Amb. Kenneth Quinn, the President, The World Food Prize, The Hall of Laureates, described Adesina as “someone who grew out of poverty, but whose life mission is to lift up millions of people out of poverty’’.

He said nominations for the prize were submitted by organisations and prestigious individuals. And then a Selection Committee, made of individuals from around the world, makes the final decision.

Perdue, attesting to the good works of Adesina, said the new Food Prize Laureate, could fit in as the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

In attendance were some past awardees, Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Nigeria’s Acting Ambassador to the U.S. and Chargé d‘Affaires, Amb. Hakeem Balogun. Others include officials of the World Food Programme, members of the Diplomatic Corps and other U.S. officials.

While congratulating Adesina, former President Jonathan said he was not surprised, describing the former minister as exceptional in intellect and work ethic.

In a post on his Facebook page, Jonathan said, “I congratulate the President of the African Development Bank and my former minister for agriculture, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, for emerging as the World Food Prize Laureate for the year 2017. However, if I must be honest, I am not surprised at such a honour being conferred on Dr. Adesina. I have met many men in my years on earth, but few have the intellect and the work ethic of Akinwumi. During his years as Nigeria’s agriculture minister he introduced several innovations like the e-wallet fertilizer and seed distribution system which cut out the middle man, eliminated corruption and expanded Nigeria’s ability to feed herself.

“Under his guidance, Nigeria came out from the floods of 2012 without a famine. He oversaw a program that reduced our food import bill by almost 50% and working with others in my administration he helped Nigeria become one of only a handful of nations in the world to reduce hunger levels between 2011-2015 according to the International Food Policy Research Institute. I am proud of you Akin. Please accept my congratulations on behalf of my family and I and all those who served with me during my administration.”

Adesina’s exploits in the sphere of agriculture and food security can be traced to his roots.  Born to a farmer in his native Ogun State. He received a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economics from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). He earned his Master’s Degree Purdue University, Indiana, USA (1985) and a PhD in Agricultural Economics from the same university (1988). The university also awarded an honorary doctorate in 2015.

According to the Purdue University website, Adesina joins Purdue faculty members Gebisa Ejeta (2009) and Philip Nelson (2007) as World Food Prize laureates.

Ejeta, who is a distinguished professor and director of the Center for Global Food Security, described Adesina as a brilliant man with extensive knowledge. He said, “I have known Dr. Adesina since he was a graduate student and I was a young assistant professor at Purdue. I have followed his growth and accomplishments over his entire professional career — a career in which he has created innovative financial instruments and policy changes that have transformed African agriculture. He is a brilliant man with extensive knowledge, experience and a gift for oratory that combined have enabled him to be a most powerful and constructive voice in African agricultural development.”

Adesina served the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development from 2010 to 2015. He was credited with ending 40 years of corruption in the fertilizer sector by developing and implementing an innovative electronic wallet system that directly provides farmers with subsidies at scale using their mobile phones.

Within the first four years after its launch, the electronic wallet system reportedly transformed the lives of 14.5 million farmers. And under Adesina’s leadership, Nigeria’s food production expanded by 21 million metric tons.

In 2015 Adesina was elected president of the African Development Bank Group (AfDB). The mission of the AfDB is to reduce poverty by spurring sustainable economic development and social progress in its regional member countries. Commenting about this mission, Adesina said: “Africa must feed itself, rapidly unlock its agricultural potential and help feed the world. And we must end malnutrition in Africa. That’s the life challenge and exciting task ahead of me now in my current position as president of the African Development Bank, to feed Africa. I know we can do it. The World Food Prize gives me an even greater global platform to make that future happen much faster for Africa.”

Among other positions he has held were principal economist for the West Africa Rice Development Association; associate director of food security at the Rockefeller Foundation; and vice president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

Adesina has received global awards and recognition for his leadership and work in agriculture. In 2010 United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed him as one of the leaders to spearhead the Millennium Development Goals, along with Bill Gates, the Spanish prime minister and the president of Rwanda. Forbes magazine also named Adesina African Person of the Year in 2013.

Norman E. Borlaug, recipient of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize, founded the World Food Prize in 1986. Since then, the World Food Prize has honored 45 outstanding individuals who have made vital contributions throughout the world. The World Food Prize annually hosts the Borlaug Dialogue international symposium and a variety of youth education programs to help further the discussion on cutting-edge global food security issues and inspire the next generation to end hunger.

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