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Akinwumi Adesina: Celebrating the First Nigerian Winner of World Food Prize Laureate


In the last ten years or so, Adesina has been a household name in both rural and urban nooks and crannies of Africa. He has been a friend to the nations’ Presidents, shrewd business tycoons and resourced – poor peasant farmers. This is a wide range of diversity.
It is amazing how one man swings from dining and wining with global movers and shakers of the World to intimate interaction with rural dwellers, the strong pillars of African Agriculture.
This swinging vocation, which Adesina pursued vigorously and passionately finally paid off as he was pronounced to be the winner of the most coveted global recognition in Agriculture – winner of the 2017 World Food Prize Laureate.
The prize award ceremony took place in a far away Des Moines, Iowa state of United State of America. It was done on 19th October 2017 in the magnificent Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines. Over 1,000 international guests, African – Americans and other citizens of USA graced the occasion.
At the marvelous capitol building, an equivalent to government house in Nigeria, two past African Heads of governments; Mr. Olusugun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Mr. John Mahama of Ghana conspicuously honored the august gathering. Nigerian government was ably represented by delegation led by Minister of State, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Hon. Heineken Lokpobiri.
The ceremony is deliberately set as part of the celebration to mark the World Food Day, which is a week series of activities starting from 16th of October for each year.
The prize consists of cash award of $250,000 and hand – carved sculpture created by the internationally acclaimed famous artist, Mr. Saul Bass.
World Food Prize is awarded to exceptional achievers in fields involved in or related to the production and distribution of food and reduction of hunger. Generally, the criteria is drawn to meet the qualification set by the founder, Dr. Norman Borlaug who said “It is imperative that those individuals whose work has truly made a difference in the lives and well-being of large numbers of people are considered for this award”.
The award ceremony is equivalent to those of the Nobel Prize in Sweden and Norway, drawing at least 800 international guests. Each year, world-class performers take the stage to honor the World Food Prize Laureate, and the event is televised and webcast live. Past performers included Ray Charles, John Denver, Broadway star Leslie Odom Jr., the Tokyo String Quartet, the Kathak Gunjan dancers from India, and international and recording stars such as Chachi Tadesse of Ethiopia and Achinoam Nini (Noa) from Yemen.
After the award presentation, the celebration continues at the Laureate Award Dinner, held in the rotunda of the Capitol. The 2017 award ceremony featured prominently the Aduni musical troupe from Lagos, Nigeria. Many USA based Africans especially Nigerians trooped to Des Moines to witness the auspicious event.
No doubt, Adesina was a pride to Africa and a motivator to the young scientists across the globe. How did he make it to the top? It was a tortuous journey embedded with ups and downs, which lasted over two decades.
Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina was born on 6th February 1960 to the family of Roland Folorunso Adesina and Eunice Adesina in the bounteous town of Ibadan, Oyo state capital, Nigeria. He was the second son to the family with four sons. He was raised in a communal one-room apartment without basic amenities of life.
Although his grandfather and father worked as farm laborers, his father was eventually able to receive basic education, which led to his employment as a civil servant and provided the means to send his own sons to school. His father believed so much in education as a “leveler” out of poverty, a personal principle he cherished and used to sensitize his sons and members of the society to enroll in schools.
Adesina as a son of low-income family had his basic education in a village school rather than a city school, which made him to face the reality of rural poverty experienced by smallholder farmers and their families. Perhaps, it was the lesson in his early life that shaped and made him to be the darling of rural farmers in Africa.
All his life, he was and still is accessible to the downtrodden and poor-resourced farmers.  His father wanted him to read medicine in the university, which made Adesina to write university entrance examination twice; and at both times, Adesina was offered admission to read agriculture.
The father had to resign to fate and allowed the young Adesina to read agriculture as a divine choice. Perhaps, the father wanted his son to be called “doctor”, – a reason why Adesina wrote a letter to his father with bold inscription of “Dr. A. Adesina” when he completed his PhD program at Purdue University. Or perhaps, the father was just thinking that “medicine” was better than “agriculture” – a reason why the father, at one time, relaxed in Adesina’s residence called call – out his grandson (Adesina’s son) enthusiastically “Doctor” after the grandson’s graduation from medical school; Adesina, being a PhD holder, present at one corner of the same residence heard the call and answered “yes Daddy”.
The father turned back and said “I am not referring to you but calling the real doctor”. Well, a kind of exultant outcome to the family, the father has both “Doctors”; (a PhD holder) and the real “Doctor”. Only that even the real Doctor, most of the times recommends to their patients to take their drugs after meals – signifying that food and nutrition (Agriculture) are the sound foundation to healthy (Medicine) body.
Adesina reported this story to the pleasure of his audience during his interaction with higher school students under the auspices of Global Youth Institute at Dupont Pioneer, Carver Center, Des Moines, USA on 21st October 2017. It was indeed a motivation to some us present at the occasion.
Adesina graduated with first-class honor in agricultural economics from the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolawo University), Ile – Ife, Nigeria where he reportedly topped his class. After his service year, Adesina flew to United State of America for his postgraduate programs. He earned his Masters, (1985) and Ph.D. (1988) in Agricultural Economics at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, USA.
His postgraduate years at Purdue, as a postgraduate student with family were financially challenging. However, some professors and their families provided mentorship and part-time jobs, which sustained Adesina’s family. Twenty-seven years after graduating from Purdue, the same university (Purdue) accorded Adesina with an honorary doctorate degree in 2015 as a recognition of an excellent alumnus.

After successful graduation from his postgraduate programs, Adesina’s desire was to return to Africa. This is where his knowledge, acumen and skill were needed to assist smallholder farmers increase crop production and improve their livelihoods.
Consequently, he secured a post-doctoral fellowship at the Rockefeller Foundation in 1988. After his fellowship, he moved to West African Rice Development Association (WARDA) as Senior Economist from 1990 to 1995, Adesina served as Senior Economist in Bouake, Cote d’Ivoire—where Dr. Monty Jones (2004 World Food Prize Laureate) was breeding new rice varieties known as NERICA.
From 1995 to 1998, Adesina served (International Institute for Tropical Agriculture) as Senior Economist at IITA in Ibadan, Nigeria.  In 1998, he returned to the Rockefeller Foundation as Senior Agricultural Scientist in New York, and a year later he was appointed the first Director of the Foundation’s newly opened Southern Africa Regional Office in Harare, Zimbabwe. In 2002, he became Rockefeller’s Associate Director, Food Security. He continued this formative stage and career – building until he became a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2011.
As minister, he served diligently and attracted several accolades that moved him to the next level. Currently, he is serving as the 8th President of African Development Bank with Headquarters in Cote d’Ivoire. This was a position he stepped into after serving as Nigeria’s minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.
What are the spectacular reasons that qualified Dr. Akinwumi Adesina as the 2017 World Food Prize Laureate? How Nigeria and indeed the rest of Africa benefit from the prize won by Dr. Adesina?
To be continued next week
Professor Othman is the Executive Director of National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), ABU Zaria.

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