Cape Town, South Africa – In September 2012, when Akinwumi Adesina was Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture, the country experienced one of the worst floods on record.
The flood engulfed 30 of Nigeria’s 36 states, killing 363 people and displacing more than two million others. The floods washed away farmland, homes and essential public infrastructure such as roads, bridges and electrical installations.
“Everyone panicked that there was going to be a food crisis. I must be the only person in the country who said we could avoid a food crisis,” Adesina, 62, told Al Jazeera.
The minister implemented a plan to accelerate the growth of maize, wheat and rice during the dry season as the country faced devastating food shortages. Growing these crops at this time of year was not typical in Nigeria, but it increased the food supply. The government also distributed free seeds and fertilizers to flood-affected farmers and subsidized inputs to unaffected farmers, to boost food production.
“By the time we completed the action plan, instead of increasing the price of food, the price of food collapsed in Nigeria in March. We started planting in October. In March, we had lowered the price of food.
This was possible, Adesina said, thanks to “knowledge of science, knowledge of technology and deploying the right instruments at the right time.”
Effect of the Ukrainian War on Africa
Now, in his current role as president of the African Development Bank, the continent’s largest multilateral lender, Adesina is trying to avert a larger-scale food crisis. As the war between Russia and Ukraine enters its second month, prices for natural gas, wheat and fertilizer have soared.
Together, Russia and Ukraine produce more than a quarter of global wheat exports, and Africa is heavily dependent on the two countries. According to the AfDB, wheat imports account for 90% of Africa’s $4 billion in trade with Russia and nearly half of the continent’s $4.5 billion in trade with Ukraine.
“A third of East Africa’s grain supply comes from these two countries, and Egypt is being hit hard. The same goes for Algeria and Morocco, Somalia and several other countries. So if we don’t deal with this very quickly, it will actually destabilize the continent,” Adesina said.
He said the war would affect the African economy in several ways. Already, it has rattled financial markets, causing exorbitant interest rates. “You are starting to see what has happened also in terms of euro bond yields that are being posted by African countries. The spreads are very, very high because of that,” he said.
But perhaps just as importantly, commodity prices are on the rise, including that of wheat which “went up 64% globally”, the same price around the 2008 global food crisis, he said. he declares.
Fertilizers, a key part of the agribusiness sector, have also been affected, and the head of the bank knows that could be catastrophic.
“The price of urea has increased by 300%. All of this means that it is [the war] spur inflation in Africa, and this could – if not quickly managed well – trigger a food crisis in Africa,” Adesina said.
Africa’s Emergency Food Plan
Adesina is working on a billion dollar emergency food production plan for Africa to avert food shortages and reduce inflation. The AfDB-led project will help support 20 million farmers with access to climate-resilient agricultural technologies to boost food production to feed 200 million Africans.
Under the plan, farmers will be able to produce 30 million metric tons of food, including wheat, rice, corn and soybeans. Production is expected to be valued at $12 billion.
The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed 26 million Africans into extreme poverty. “Now, with this looming food crisis and with inflation accelerating, we are going to see many more – a few million more – people falling into extreme poverty. And why? Because in poor households, the price of food accounts for about 65% of household expenses.
But Adesina is optimistic that this could be avoided if the emergency plan receives sufficient international support.
IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva was “very supportive” of the plan, he said. Adesina plans to convene a meeting of African finance ministers and agriculture ministers “very soon” to discuss this.
Adesina plans to deploy $1 billion in two batches per year, in time for Africa’s growing seasons – May through July in the Northern Hemisphere and October through December in the Southern Hemisphere. As this is an emergency facility, funds will be grants, not loans.
“We’re going to do everything we can for the rest of March and April to be able to get it,” he said. “Whatever we get, we will deploy immediately to start putting seeds in the ground and for us to grow more food.”
African fuel for Europe
Some observers believe that the conflict in Eastern Europe has presented African countries with an opportunity to become key energy suppliers and Adesina agrees.
“With the war in Ukraine, what this has shown is that Europe needs to diversify its own energy supply away from Russia,” Adesina said. “It depends on Russia for 45% of all its gas, or almost 115 billion cubic meters of gas – one place to look is Africa.”
The AfDB has been working on a $25 billion deal with Mozambique in 2020 for liquefied natural gas (LNG), which will make the country the world’s third-largest exporter of the commodity. It is also hoped that the Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline – currently under construction – which will stretch from Nigeria to Algeria will be an integral part of any new deal.
“New gas fields have been discovered in Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, so that Africa can become a strategic gas supplier for Europe. And I think Europe should invest with us in critical gas pipeline infrastructure to get gas from Africa to Europe,” he said.