'Agriculture is a business that can transform rural economies': The President of the AfDB explains why agriculture should be viewed as a business and the importance of employing the latest technologies to develop it.

Position:INTERVIEW: Dr Akinwumi Adesina, President of the AfDB - African Development Bank - Interview
 
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Last year, the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr Akinwumi Adesina won the World Food Prize. His philosophy is not only that Africa has a true comparative advantage in this field but that agriculture should be viewed as a business opportunity as opposed to development. The agricultural sector, he points out, has made more billionaires than most industries. African Business caught up with him to find out more about his views on agriculture, one of the five priorities of the AfDB.

The Chinese and Indian agricultural landscapes were very similar to Africa at independence. Both these countries managed to bring about their green revolution. Do you feel this is going to happen in Africa?

There has been a problem in the way we look at agriculture. We have looked at agriculture as the sector for managing poverty, as a development sector. But in fact, agriculture is not a development activity, nor a social sector, but a business. And I think it's that approach the opportunity in agriculture for business--that will allow us to transform that industry.

It's a business that allows you to transform rural economies and free millions from poverty. It's a business that allows you to earn foreign exchange and reduce your level of dependency on food imports. African leaders are beginning to get it that agriculture is centred on how they are going to get their economies to work. And that is what leads me to believe that the agricultural transformation we're talking about is really going to happen.

The other thing is the importance of technologies. Today, we have rice varieties that allow people to produce about four or five times what farmers are currently getting. We have cassava varieties that give you 80 tonnes per hectare compared to roughly about 20 tonnes per hectare. So, four times what farmers are currently getting. There are drought tolerant maize that allow you to get yields of 100% despite the presence of drought.

We have all the technologies and what we've got to do now is take them to scale.

So, now at the AfDB, my focus is to make sure that we deploy technologies of scale to reach millions of farmers. Africa shouldn't be thinking of feeding itself in 30 years, or 40 years--it should be thinking of feeding itself in 10 years. We are putting $24bn, that's a lot of money, behind agriculture in the next 10 years. It just tells you how seriously we consider this, because I think Africa must not only feed itself, but it must feed...

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