On October 19th, Nigerian Akinwumi Adesina was awarded the 2017 World Food Prize in Des Moines. The prize honours the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.
Why did Adesina win? The current president of the African Development Bank has been recognised for his efforts to transform African agriculture in the last two decades to increase productivity, in roles with the Rockefeller Foundation, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), and as Minister of Agriculture of Nigeria. Perhaps the most innovative intervention was the establishment of an e-wallet system for smallholder farmers in Nigeria, for the direct delivery of subsidized electronic vouchers for inputs to the farmers’ mobile phones. These vouchers can be used like cash to purchase fertiliser and other agricultural inputs directly from agro-dealers. The system, the first of its kind, aimed at reducing corruption in the distribution of fertiliser subsidies, since previously only a small proportion of the funds allocated was actually reaching farmers. The success of the e-wallet system in Nigeria, credited to benefit 40 million farmers, inspired the creation of similar initiatives in Kenya and Uganda.
And the spirit of innovation has spread further. The call by the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) to submit proposals for digital innovations promoting financial inclusion in the African continent resulted in over 200 responses. While Kenya comes first in the number of submitted proposals, 25 other African countries also participated in the call. About half of the innovations addressed a specific market sector, with small and medium enterprises and farmers topping the list.
While the value of these innovations is unquestionable, it is important to reflect on the fact that despite huge increases in the rate of penetration of mobile phones in Sub-Saharan Africa, less than 20% of the rural population in the continent has access to electricity, which limits their potential benefit. True progress with therefore require better integration between agricultural development and access to fair and sustainable energy sources for the rural population, who after all grow the majority of the food on the continent!