Day Africa stood still for Nigeria's success story.
The AGRF is undoubtedly the world's most important agriculture forum which has members and stakeholders in virtually all agricultural endeavours involved in practical actions on agriculture, projected to change the landscape of agriculture in Africa from what it currently is. The Food Prize, which attracts a yearly sum of $100,000, is an avenue to recognize and celebrate 'an outstanding individual or institution leading the effort to change the reality of farming in Africa from a struggle to survive to a business that thrives and deserves this preeminent award.' The award is then presented to the winner during AGRF conference in September of every year.
For this year, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) located in Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State, had been chosen as winner of the award. The AGRF said, in choosing the Institute, it considered not only its 'pioneer (role) in the field of 'food security innovation,'' but its 'demonstrated innovations to improve food security in Africa.' In the wordings of the official statement issued from its headquarters Kigali, IITA, the Ibadan-based research institution, 'is the first African institution to receive such distinguished award.' Its committee, chaired by Nigerian ex-President, Olusegun Obasanjo, said that, among its criteria for the selection, was IITA's 'deep commitment over many decades to producing a steady stream of innovations.' The theme of this year's AGRF conference is Lead, Measure and Grow. Official estimates had told the awarding committee that, overall in Africa, the value of crops developed by IITA and its partners stood at US$ 17 billion and the institute contributes hugely to Africa's agriculture and its economy.
'IITA stood out to us for its steadfast and inspiring commitment to a research agenda that aligns with both our African traditions as well as the evolving needs of African farmers and consumers for the latest advances (in) food production,' Obasanjo told the audience. 'From the cassava we're still eating today, to the valuable and nutritious soybeans we now grow in our fields, to maize varieties that can withstand drought and deadly toxins-our diets and our agriculture businesses would be much poorer today without IITA's leadership, and its willingness to forge powerful bonds with African farmers and African communities.'
So, on this day of award, gathered inside the East Africa Trade and Investment Hub venue were Presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda; Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya; Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of Ghana; Edgar Chagwa Lungu of Zambia; Jovenel Moise of Haiti and Emmanuel Issoze-Ngondet of Gabon. Also present were Moussa Fakki-Moamat, Chairperson of African Union; Dr. Gilbert Houngbo, President of IFAD; Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank; Andrew Ndaamunhu Bwumbe, Executive Director, World Bank; Hon Wiu Hongyao of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, Peoples Republic of China; Prof Joao Bosco Monte of the Brazil Africa Institute; Dr. Stefan Schmitz, who heads the Rural Development and Food Security of Germany, prime ministers, ministers of Agriculture almost cutting across Africa and many more.
As the compere formally announced IITA as the laureate of this year's Food Prize, the hall, filled to its brim, erupted in a standing ovation while the man who stood at the driver's seat of the Ibadan institute in the last seven years, through whom IITA was rescued from its floundering descent into total collapse it had hitherto been, stood up from the massive crowd and headed for the microphone to tell the world about the success story of Nigeria. He is the unassuming revolutionary at work in IITA, a middle-aged scientist from the Democratic Republic of Congo who had made Ibadan and Nigeria home in the last three decades or so, Sanginga Nteranya. Prior to joining IITA, he had been the Director of the Nairobi-based CIAT-TBSF and was for about 21 years, with the University of Zimbabwe, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Austria and CIAT-TSBF, in agricultural research and development, particularly in the fields of applied microbial ecology, plant nutrition and integrated natural resources management in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia.
The Nigeria success story
After acknowledging the presence of regional leaders gathered, Sanginga began his Nigerian story. He recalled how then 30-year old Yakubu Gowon, Nigerian Head of State, had signed the decree for the establishment of the institute, at the thick of the Biafran war and how, in July, 2017, while IITA celebrated its 50th anniversary, with Gowon and Obasanjo in attendance, he had asked what exactly lay atop the former's mind while midwifing such a consequential conception.
'The question I asked him was what was he thinking about? The war was terrible and the Head of State should be thinking of how to reunite his people and make peace but he found time to sign that simple decree. He was 88 (years of age) last year and he was so pleased to see the piece of paper he signed had established a strong institution with headquarters in Ibadan, five major stations in Nigeria, infrastructure in 18 countries and we work in almost all countries in the world,' Sanginga said, which courted the applauses of all gathered.
Then he launched into the cassava story of IITA, which indeed is the story of the African region. According to him when Obasanjo became the civilian President in 1999, his major task was the Presidential Innovation on Cassava.
'By then, Nigeria used cassava which was considered as a poor man's food. As a scientist at IITA during this period, cassava was not popular to work on. Maize was it. From that initiative, Nigeria became the first (cassava) producer in the world and cassava became what is (today) used for industrial purposes,' Sanginga told the world.
He said that today, cassava is a major ingredient in making bread in perhaps the whole of Africa. What led to it, according to him, was that, IITA embarked on a 15-year research into the crop, especially with a brief on how to introduce it into bread-making and today, 'every bread you eat has 10-20 per cent cassava. What economy!' Sanginga also said that Nigeria saves half a billion dollars yearly by so doing, using local content in deploying cassava into bread.
More success story
The IITA Director General, who holds a PhD in agriculture, also externalized the success story of IITA. One day, Sanginga and the Rwandan Minister of Agriculture, Geraldine Mukeshimana, accompanied by her colleague of the Finance ministry, had met at the Dakar Summit on Feed Africa. Akinwunmi Adesina of the AfDB had earlier called him to go and meet with Geraldine who, according to Sanginga, had told him Rwanda had a big problem which he wanted solved. 'You have to help me,' Adesina had said pleadingly. As it turned out, it was the problem of the country's cassava plantations being attacked by the virus of mosaic disease.
'I knew about the disease as it came from Tanzania, landed in Uganda, got to Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. I am from Congo and we eat cassava three times a day. Cassava was disappearing from the Eastern region (due to the mosaic virus)' Sanginga had said. At the end of the day, that innocuous institute in Ibadan found a solution to the Rwandan and the Eastern region nightmare. 'We found a solution in a variety resistant to cassava mosaic and saved cassava in the African region,' he said.
Kenya also partook of the salvaging campaign of Nigeria's IITA. 'In 2015, I was in Ibadan and I got a call from the Nigerian Minister who said President Kenyatta wanted to talk to me. He was in Abuja. A friend who was there while I received the call said it must be a serious business because a President wouldn't just demand to talk to an ordinary DG. So I went. I met and discussed with President Kenyatta. We talked in Swahili and he said, 'I am losing 200 people every year Help me,' Sanginga said. According to Kenyatta, in the Ukambani region of Kenya, the people died of contamination of Aflatoxin in maize but unlike the typical African 'where we attribute such deaths to witchcraft,' Kenyatta knew the problem was scientific. 'In Nigeria, the groundnut pyramids disappeared because of this same fungi (that afflicted maize in Ukambani).' IITA thus went to work and Sanginga announced gleefully, 'we found a biological solution to the fungi and eliminated it 100 per cent (in Ukambani). We researched with a small pilot scheme which saved the people.'
In 2011, Bill Gates visited Nigeria and IITA. Sanginga was just the DG-elect. Bill Gates was funding some research in the Institute. After hearing all that the institute was doing to rescue the challenged agricultural problem of Africa, he said, 'Yes, you have a good solution here, but the problem is, you're serving only 100-1000 people. How do you serve millions of people? If you want my intervention, go and work on that question.' According to Sanginga, that Gates challenge changed the orientation of IITA under him. 'Before then, we researched only for research's sake. Not too many people used the products of the research. We published our papers and we were happy we had done a good job. Governments, when they have a challenge (in that regard) couldn't even find solutions to them (with our papers).'
The IITA DG told the Kigali audience that from then on, the Institute took on a philosophy of commercialising technologies and today, 'IITA (has) become a big factory.' Concluding the story of the Kenyan intervention, he said Kenya started airlifting Aflasafe product produced in Ibadan 'and paying big cash (foreign exchange)' to Nigeria. 'Two years after, we went and built an Aflasafe factory in Kenya and today, fourteen countries are now using Afraserve' produced in Ibadan, Nigeria.
The DG also told the story of how the Institute was providing leadership to African youths. IITA, he told the audience, is 'a small city of 1000 hectares in Ibadan.' The institute employed 1,200 staff and casual staff as well. One Monday, said Sanginga, he sensed a small riot was building at the gate of the institute. Five hundred young boys and girls were fighting the security men to enable them work for the day as casuals. 'I was afraid and went into their midst young people who could be my children wanting to work as casuals. They are graduates of Law. Communication and all that. I knew the implication because my own son too, who finished from a UK university, was back to Kinshasa jobless. Casual work means working in the cassava field, planting and we pay them $6 a day, which is even too small.' He was with them for three hours and at the end of the day, picked 60 of them for discussion at the Institute's board room. 'I told myself, we have to do something for these young people,' he said and at the end of the day, 30 of them stayed. Agriculture, to the 30 who jumped ship, according to Sanginga, meant three things - pain, penury and poverty. 'I convinced them on the values in agriculture and we decided to start the Agribusiness programme to grow job from zero.'
The result, Sanginga told the world, was that, after one year, the 30 people came back with their own enterprises. One of them had a mixture of cowpeas Vitamin A and made crunches with it and was selling in six states in Nigeria. Another was a young lady called Mercy from Borno State. After the training, she went back to the state, seeing the avenue for trade there. Today, he said, she has a Soybean and groundnut cottage industry in Borno. 'That programme has influenced many young people and ADB came and examined it. Adesina came and ADB is replicating our programme in 24 African countries. The lesson is mind-set change,' he said.
'IITA is not only about research but capacity for leadership as well,' he said. He told the story of the First Laureate of the Food Prize, Dr. Kanayo Nwanze, President of the Rome-based International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), who was a technician at IITA. He was a scientist, became the DG and is today President of IFAD; and Adesina himself who was a colleague scientist of his at IITA and who today is the President of the African Development Bank.
Then Sanginga told his own story as well. In 1981, he had been offered scholarship to study in Minnesota, US. An IITA scientist from Nigeria at this time came to his university in Kisangani to deliver a paper at a conference and he influenced him to go to Nigeria. Sanginga was laughed at for abandoning the US for Nigeria. He came, did his doctoral and post-doc in Nigeria in Agronomy/Soil Microbiology and became a Director at IITA. In 2011, he was shortlisted for the DG position, with Americans and Europeans as co-contestants for the post. He was afraid he would not be selected. He eventually got the job and there was a general fear that giving such a huge job to an African meant potential ruins.
'My predecessor, an American, left a deficit of $15 million. In the first six months, they sent a forensic auditor to audit me. I told my wife, Charlotte, what are we doing here? Let's go back home! But, in the last seven years, we've tripled the budget of IITA, built seven other stations from the scratch in different countries which had never been done before and we started this programme with youths, working with the private sector,' he said.
Sanginga thanked the AGRF for the award prize, saying it was 'not only for IITA but the young people working with us.' He pleaded with President Kagame, Chairman of the African Union, 'Sir, research gives good returns on investments. But for research, cassava would have disappeared on the African continent' And the world, Africa stood up to acknowledge the giant strides on the small outskirts of Ibadan, Nigeria that was making waves for Africa.