By Kate Hrdina
DES MOINES, Iowa — About 60 percent of the world’s unused, unfarmed land is in Africa. For this reason, the continent often claims the spotlight in discussions about international agriculture. But many African countries aren’t current key players on a global scale.
Akin Adesina, the minister of agriculture and development in Nigeria, spoke at a breakfast Friday and news conference Thursday about his country’s refocus on agriculture.
“Many think of Nigeria as a country with oil,” he said. “That’s okay, but nobody drinks it. Nobody eats it.”
The country shifted its concentration at the end of the 20th century from crops such as cocoa and cotton to oil. Adesina said this created poverty in the rural areas, and Nigeria began importing most of its food.
The government took control of most agriculture, and when Adesina became the minister in July 2011, he realized the corruption in fertilizer distribution. The government would sell fertilizer mixed with large amounts of sand and sometimes never deliver it, he said.
Adesina vowed to change Nigeria’s perspective on agriculture. It would no longer simply be a way of life, he said. Agriculture would become a business.
Nigeria added 9 million metric tons to its total food production last year compared with the previous year.
Within 90 days of becoming minister, Adesina released the fertilizer industry to the private sector so companies could sell directly to farmers. He also instated an electronic wallet system for farmers — the first in Africa. His goal is for 10 million farmers in Nigeria to be using the cell phone technology to buy seed and fertilizer by next year.
Institutions, not individuals, are what sustain change over the years, Adesina said. New institutions such as the Federal Department of Agribusiness, the Federal Department of Agricultural Extension and the Youth Employment in Agriculture program ensure success beyond his time as minister, he said.
As for crops, Adesina said Nigeria would fully embrace biotechnology. Natural disasters such as drought and flood require the application of science, he said. The country already produces vitamin A-enriched cassava and looks forward to adding bio-fortified sorghum and Bt corn to that list.
“If the rest of the world is flying aircrafts, we’re not going to travel on donkeys,” he said.