By Prof. M. K. Othman
My first visit to the Headquarters of the World Food Prize Foundation in the Des Moines, Iowa State was in July 2017. It was a mission full of spectacular experiences with amazing outcomes whose memory remains refreshing to date.
We were warmly welcomed by the Foundation’s President, Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn with an affable smile, warm reception, and resonating voice. The voice was so expressive that I knew, I heard it before but couldn’t recall where and when. I quickly remembered he was the keynote speaker of the annual International Conference of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE), held in Spokane, Washington State.
When I told him I witnessed his speech at ASABE Conference, he held my hand as if he found his lost brother. Amb. Quinn’s cordiality and diplomatic acumen made us feel at home, he knew we were from Nigeria, and then he seemingly uttered “Nigeria, a country with great people”. Nigeria’s negative image, which was being promoted by the media made me cringe, was he teasing?
No, he was too ambassadorial and serious to be a joker, and thus, I instantly believed him. To buttress his point, he ushered us into the Hall of Laureates of the World Food Prize Foundation. In the Hall, the picture of former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo was hanging amid the pictures of prominent personalities as Board members in the Hall of the famous international Foundation.
As we were pleasantly amazed, he broke the news that another prominent Nigerian, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, won “the 2017 World Food Prize Laureate”. Dr. Adesina was and still is the first and only Nigerian to win the prize and the fourth in Africa to be so awarded since 1987 when M. S. Swaminathan, an Indian became the first to win the prize.
Nigeria, a giant of Africa may be facing several developmental challenges at home but has some sons and daughters whose positive contributions to the global arena are dually recognized and part of this credit must go to our nation.The prize consisted of a 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 the reduction of hunger.
Generally, the criteria are drawn to meet the qualification set by the founder, Dr. Norman Borlaug who said “Those individuals whose work has truly made a difference in the lives and well-being of large numbers of people must be considered for this award”. To us, Adesina’s World Food Prize marked a giant milestone that accorded him a well-deserved global recognition as a worthy ambassador of the African continent.
It was the beginning of more service to humanity. As a source of inspiration, Adesina’s tortuous life journey, embedded with ups and downs, is surely an interesting episode for the African leaders of today and tomorrow. No doubt, Adesina is a pride to Africa and a motivator for young scientists across the globe. Yes, Dr. Adesina is among the top-ranking Nigerians who have been assiduously working hard to uplift Africa by earning an enormous reputation and global accolades. Who is Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina? In the last two decades, Dr. 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 could swing from dining and wining with global movers and shakers of the World to having an intimate interaction with the rural dwellers, the strong pillars of African Agriculture. Today, Dr. Adesina can be described as an excellent man of contemporary African history whose story can be segmented into two phases. His formative period up to his ascendancy to the position of Nigerian Minister of Agriculture in 2015, and the current epoch as the President of Africa Development Bank.
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, Nigeria. 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 sons to school.
Adesina as a son of a low-income family had his basic education in a village school rather than a city school, which made him 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 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 write the 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. Adesina graduated with first-class honors in agricultural economics from the then-University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile – Ife, Nigeria where he reportedly tops his class. After his service year, Adesina flew to the United State of America for his postgraduate programs. He earned his Master, (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 a family were financially challenging. However, He was able to weather the storm and came out stronger and well-prepared to serve humanity, particularly Africans. He acquired the requisite knowledge, acumen, and skill to serve Africa where he was most needed to enhance the productivity of smallholder farmers as well as improve their livelihoods. Since then, so much water has passed under the bridge, and Adesina has touched and still touched the lives of 100s millions of vulnerable people by lifting them out of hunger, poverty, and squalor. How was Adesina able to do it?
To be concluded next week.
Othman,professor of Soil and Water Engineering NAERLS, writes from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.