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World Food Prize winner says he won’t rest until ‘Africa feeds itself’

Adesina, president of the African Development Bank Group, said he would use the $250,000 award that comes with the prestigious prize to provide fellowships and grants to young Africans, dedicated to making a living through agriculture.

“We will arise and feed Africa,” Adesina said. “The day is coming very soon when … all its children will be well-fed, when millions of small-holder farmers will be able to send their kids to school.

“Then you will hear a new song across Africa — thank God our lives are better at last,” he said during the ceremony at the Iowa Capitol, attended by Gov. Kim Reynolds,  Congressman Steve King, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, among several other political leaders.

The award was founded by the late Norman Borlaug, a Cresco native who won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize.

Borlaug was called “the Father of the Green Revolution” for his work developing high-yielding strains of wheat that were credited with staving off the starvation of millions of people in Pakistan and India in the 1960s.

Borlaug believed in a Green Revolution for Africa.

During a visit with Borlaug, Adesina said the Iowa native told him he could “score the first goal for Africa,” helping to inspire the Nigerian’s work.

Africa’s road to self-sufficiency is steep, though: It spends $35 billion annually on food imports, an amount that’s estimated to hit $110 billion by 2030.

At the ceremony, Adesina, 57, said he would still be “languishing away” in a Nigerian village had his parents not sacrificed so he could attend school.

The World Food Prize Foundation said Adesina has “led millions on the road out of poverty.”

Among Adesina’s work: As Nigeria’s agriculture minister, Adesina introduced the Electronic Wallet, or E-Wallet, that allowed farmers to use electronic vouchers by mobile phone to buy seed and fertilizer directly, cutting out sometimes corrupt middlemen, the World Food Prize Foundation said.

The system dramatically raised production of cassava, rice, sorghum, maize and cotton while at the same time raising farmers’ income.

The resulting increased farm yields have led to the improvement of food security for 40 million people in rural farm households.

“Under his dynamic leadership, $5.6 billion in private sector investment was attracted to the country,” the foundation said.

Meeting with reporters Thursday, Adesina said: “We have to unlock the full potential of Africa’s agriculture, and turn agriculture from something that’s used for managing poverty to something that’s used for creating wealth.

“It makes no sense, you have a continent with 65 percent of all the world’s uncultivated, arable land not being able to feed itself,” Adesina said.

Africa has 300 million people in extreme hunger, and more than 54 million children suffering from stunting — kids not getting enough food to fully develop physically.

Adesina said Africa needs significant investment electricity, roads, rail and other infrastructure.

An estimated 645 million Africans “do not have access to electricity,” Adesina said.

The African Development Bank is investing $12 billion over five years, and leveraging $45-50 billion in private investment, to create “universal access to electricity.”

“Africa cannot develop in the dark,” he told reporters. “Africa needs to industrialize fast” to help add value to its farm product.

For example, Adesina said Africa produces 75 percent of the world’s cocoa, but it receives just 2 percent of the $100 billion chocolate market.

“The rich nations process and value to everything they do,” Adesina said. “While poor nations export raw materials.”

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