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Keynote Address by Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank Group at the 7th Tokyo International Conference For African Development (TICAD7)-Sasakawa Africa: Building on the Past, Looking to the Future-Yokohama, August 28, 2019


Thank you for inviting me to this session.

Thank you Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for honoring us with your presence. We were together just two days ago at the G7 meeting of global leaders in Biarritz, France. There you spoke passionately about the need for a better and more equitable world.

Thank you for your leadership in convening the TICAD. The African Development Bank deeply appreciates the support of Japan – a major shareholder that has always contributed to the General Capital Increase of the Bank and of the African Development Fund, which supports low-income states. I would like to thank you and Japan for your doing the same this year. Africa is grateful for your support. I am delighted to be in Japan for TICAD.

And, I’m also delighted to have the opportunity to celebrate the incredible work of the Sasakawa Africa Association.

Passion, dedication and commitment to the development of agriculture and the pursuit of food security in our world has been the hallmark of your work.

The fact is you care about Africa. It was indeed the desire of the Founder, the late Mr. Ryochi Sasakawa, to help Africa achieve the green revolution. Yes, high yielding wheat and rice technologies changed the face of hunger in Asia with the green revolution. Over one billion people were fed! Norman Borlaug had already won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work. Resting at home, in his 80s, and finally able to spend time with his wife and family, as far as Norman Borlaug was concerned, his work was done! Or, so he thought...

Somewhere in Asia, a Japanese philanthropist, Mr. Sasakawa, was getting sleepless nights worrying about the rising hunger and malnutrition in Africa. He called up Norman and said he’d like him to come out of retirement to help Africa feed itself. Stunned, Norm said, “I am 70 years old and retired.” The soft but steely voice on the other end would not relent, admonishing the Nobel Prize winner “I am 85 years old, young man, get up and come and help Africa get a green revolution.” That was the history of all the work of the Association.

With this as context, you can now understand what I mean when I talk about the power of “passion, dedication and commitment.” Your history is the compass for all that you continue to do today, several decades afterwards.

If an 85 year-old man and a 70 year-old man – at the time, could be so tireless in tackling hunger, you all need to sign up to be global hunger fighters.

And, the reason is compelling.

The share of the global population living in extreme poverty has declined dramatically since 1990s, driven largely by the successes in Asia, especially in China. In spite of all the gains we’ve made in agriculture we are not winning the global war against hunger. According to the FAO's 2019 State of Food and Security, the number of hungry people globally stands at a disconcerting 821 million. Africa alone accounts for 31% of the global number of hungry people – 251 million people.

We must all arise collectively and end global hunger. To do that, we must end hunger in Africa. Yes we must! Hunger diminishes our humanity.

This a commitment we share at the African Development Bank.

Africa must feed itself. And it must do more than that: Africa must turn itself into a global powerhouse in food and agriculture. We are working to turn agriculture into a business, one that creates wealth, jobs and delivers improved quality of life to millions of farmers. A business that transforms the rural economies of Africa from zones of economic misery to zones of economic prosperity.

While the Bank's High 5s are to Light up and Power Africa, Feed Africa, Industrialize Africa, Integrate Africa, and Improve the Lives of the People of Africa, much of my remarks will be limited to what it will take to Feed Africa.

It is an imperative of now! That is why the Bank is investing $25 billion to help make agriculture and agribusiness Africa’s biggest industry. And for good reason: the size of food and agriculture will rise to $1 trillion by 2030!

A lot of progress has been made in this renewed drive to transform agriculture in Africa.

The African Development Bank launched the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) to help ramp up technologies to millions of farmers. TAAT connects the global agricultural research centers, national agricultural research centers, private sector and agricultural value chains in Africa, in an unprecedented effort to connect the supply and demand side of technologies seamlessly. For the first time, accountability was built into the approach, with technology delivery compacts signed by all participating institutions and partners. TAAT partners, which includes the World Bank, AGRA, IFAD and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have mobilized $1 billion.

The results are impressive. Last year alone, the TAAT maize compact helped to deliver water efficient maize across the Southern Africa region that was experiencing severe drought. Working with 30 private seed companies, the TAAT maize compact produced over 27,000 tons of seeds of water efficient maize that was planted by 1.6 million farmers, in just one year!

To tackle another menace that posed real risk to food security – the Fall Army Worm, which could potentially wipe out crops on farms, TAAT deployed seeds of maize treated with insecticides that averted the disaster, planted by 1.5 million farmers – an impressive achievement. The TAAT wheat compact helped Sudan to produce over 26,000 metric tons of wheat, enough to meet 80% of Sudan’s national wheat production.

TAAT has become a game changer. In the past we’d test technologies for four or so years in one location, and repeatedly in each and every country, before they could be released within country borders. With TAAT, all that has changed. TAAT’s approach is “technologies without borders.” After all, insects don’t require visas to cross borders! The old model of testing technologies by countries, should be replaced with testing along “agricultural-ecological zones.” Once it works in one part of an agriculture-ecological zone, it should be deployed across borders in the same agricultural-ecological bands.

The greatest challenge facing agriculture is climate change. While agriculture itself contributes a lot to climate change through deforestation and land use changes, the gains we’ve made from agriculture is boomeranging on agriculture. The proverbial chickens have come home to roost. With rising global temperatures, Africa is experiencing increased climate variability and extreme weather patterns. This year we saw devastating droughts across Southern Africa. Cyclones pummelled Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, with 800 deaths, 1 million people displaced – especially women and children – and over one million acres of crop land destroyed. Seven out of ten countries most vulnerable to climate change are in Africa. And Africa will heat up 1.5 times faster than the global average. The continent will need $7-15 billion per year for adaptation alone.

Africa has been short changed by climate change. But, it should not be short changed by climate finance!

Tackling climate change must be top priority. There’s a compelling need for greater investments in developing better climate information and services. The Bank is investing in regional weather centers to improve quality of climate information. Farmers and pastoralists need to be insured. Nations themselves have to be insured against extreme weather events.

That’s why the African Development Bank set up the Africa disaster risk insurance facility, a market-based risk transfer mechanism to support countries. Several countries have benefitted, including Niger, Madagascar and Gambia, and many more need to.

The challenge is the high cost of insurance. Just 48 hours ago, I made global call at the G7 Summit in Biarritz for G7 countries to co-pay for climate insurance for most vulnerable countries, especially fragile states and small island states. I hope that Japan will lead through the TICAD, and rise to the challenge to co-finance this for African countries.

We must also continue to innovate and take advantage of information and communication technologies, and the accelerated growth of digital technologies for agriculture.  

The rapid growth in artificial intelligence, machine learning, Internet of Things, robotics and automation offers new opportunities. Drones are now helping with monitoring weather, informing planting and harvest decisions, monitoring diseases and pests, assessing soil degradation or faster land use mapping, replacing old cadastral surveys. The Bank for example is supporting a project in Tunisia using drones to rapidly assess land degradation.

Automated tractors will soon become much more common, allowing for timely and faster performance of farm operations. Indeed, it is now more likely that farms will be managed by remote sensors, with farmers not having to be farms themselves – and without wearing overalls. This will make agriculture less laborious and more exciting for the youths.

Getting the youth into agriculture is critical to assure the future of food in the world – and especially in Africa. With a population of 645 million youth, and a rapidly aging population of farmers, we must make agriculture attractive to the youth.

Things are changing rapidly. While I was minister of agriculture in Nigeria, I launched a major effort to get the youth into agriculture. We stopped calling them farmers. We called them agri-preneurs. We got pop musicians to sing about agriculture “being cool.” Movie stars and celebrities joined. A youth revolution in agriculture was unleashed. That revolution which saw so many youth become agri-preneurs in Nigeria has now become a continental movement.

The New York Times recently did a major story on this. From farming to storage, food processing, packaging, marketing and distribution, the youths are taking over in food and agriculture space. The African Development Bank has provided $380 million for the Enable Youth in Agriculture, across several countries. Today, Tope Aroge, a young medical doctor in Nigeria, run a 4,000 metric ton factory processing cassava into starch and flour. Ada Osakwe, a top-notch MBA graduate runs her own Nuli Juice, a health drink that is increasing its market share significantly.

That’s why I am extremely excited about the future of youth in agriculture and why I dedicated the $250,000 World Food Prize that I was awarded in 2017 and the $500,000 I was awarded for the SunHak Peace Prize to establish my personal Foundation - the World Hunger Fighters Foundation. The World Hunger Fighters Foundation has since launched the Borlaug-Adesina Fellows program that’ll get young people to drive major transformations in Africa's food and agribusinesses. They will join a growing league of global hunger fighters.

It is my expectation that they will become even more excited as Africa’s business and investment opportunities continue to grow. The size of food and agriculture in Africa is estimated to reach $ 1 trillion by 2030. The youth of Africa must feed Africa and be in a position to capture the wealth in agricultural value chains.

The launch of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area offers new opportunities, with a combined market size of $3.3 trillion and population of 1.2 billion people that will need to be fed with quality nutritious foods. It’ll also open up excellent opportunities for trade in food exports, packaging, transport, logistics and value added food industries.

To speed up the development of food industries the African Development Bank is financing the establishment of Special Agro-industrial Processing Zones (SAPZ). These SAPZs will be special economic zones located in rural areas and will be enabled with quality infrastructure to support the location of food and agribusinesses in rural areas. They’ll create markets for farmers, support integrated platforms for the emergence of regional and global value chains in food and agriculture. They will also create massive amounts of jobs and revive rural economies across Africa – turning them away from being zoned of economic misery to zones of economic prosperity.

And the past offers us hope.

A few decades ago, Japan was very poor and hunger pervaded the nation. An important international representative then dismissively said, “Japan cannot produce what America needs.” Just like that, Japan was written off. But Japan did not write itself off. Today, Japan is the world’s third largest economy. A prosperous nation - hunger free. It was that same commitment that inspired the late Mr. Sasakawa to make a bold and urgent call to Norman Borlaug. A clarion call to help Africa feed itself.

That’s exactly what we must do to make Africa prosperous and hunger free.

All that’s been achieved in agriculture in Africa in the past have simply laid solid foundations for what’s happening in the present, and will continue to inspire us to meet the challenges of the future.

Let’s all rise up to the challenge of feeding our world. For a food secure world will be a peaceful world.

And let us do so by preserving global biodiversity, water, forests, soil and water resources.

Let’s be better asset managers for nature. For while we must eat today, so must the future generations coming after us tomorrow. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that we do not leave empty plates on the table for the generation to come.


Thank you very much.

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