Interview: Akinwumi Adesina

What tangible impacts has the introduction of the e-wallet scheme had on agriculture?

AKINWUMI ADESINA: The e-wallet system has registered 14.5m farmers in the national database, allowing us to reach farmers directly with inputs, notably seeds and fertilisers, via electronic coupons on their mobile phones. Most importantly, they are not receiving inputs from the government but rather are co-paying and buying from the private sector. This builds a private sector supply system, ensures effective targeting of farmers, and assures accountability of public funds. The system has also allowed us to dramatically reduce corruption levels in the fertiliser sector.

In some areas the challenge we faced was stable mobile phone coverage, so we worked with the British government and the UK Department for International Development to launch a touch-and-pay system. All the system requires now is that farmers take their card to an agro-input dealer and everything shows up. Thanks to this system, we have been able to cut down on the time it takes to register a farmer to five minutes. The time it takes to redeem inputs is exactly 60 seconds, and no longer requires a queue. The World Bank recently took a decision to roll out the electronic wallet scheme to all African countries and support its full implementation.

Moreover, the shift it has had on bank lending to the sector is huge, illustrated by the number of domestic seed companies that have come forward after seeing the opportunities in a private-sector-led approach. The number of companies has grown from five in 2011 to 80 in 2014. Lending by banks to seed companies and agro-dealers grew from $10m in 2012 to $53m in 2013. Furthermore, lending to fertiliser companies that are now supplying directly to farmers grew from $100m in 2012 to $500m in 2013. And most importantly, default rates to date are 0%. This has also allowed us to improve our food production by an additional 21m tonnes in three years, exceeding our 2015 targets one year ahead.

What steps have been taken to effectively lower Nigeria’s food import bill?

ADESINA: Our food import bill was $6.89bn in 2009. By December 2013 it had decreased to $4.3bn. Wheat constitutes our biggest import, on which we spend $5bn a year. In a world of innovation, we have to find a way to lower these costs. We have introduced new varieties of wheat into Nigeria. These are tropical and not temperate, which was a mistake we made in the 1980s. Being better suited to our climate, these new varieties are yielding 6 tonnes per ha, as opposed to the 1 tonne per ha we got before.

In 2015 we plan to plant 75,000 ha of wheat in the north and 150,000 ha the following year. In three years we expect to reach 300,000 ha of planted wheat. If we stick to this target we will produce 1.5m metric tonnes of wheat, which is half our current imports. We have made similar strides with rice, having introduced new varieties called Faro 52 and Faro 44. Paddy rice production, for instance, has risen by an extra 7m metric tones over the last three years.

How has the introduction of high-yielding strains impacted cocoa cultivation?

ADESINA: We are excited about our cocoa production and the prospect of joining the 1m-tonne club. Achieving such levels of production will require technology and productivity growth, therefore we have distributed to our farmers over the last two and a half years a total of 39m seedlings of new cocoa hybrids. These cocoa hybrids will give our farmers a yield of 2.5 tonnes per ha, compared to the 0.5 tonnes per ha yielded from the previous seedlings.

In two to three years’ time we will begin to see the impact of this recapitalisation effort, by which time we expect our total production to have risen from 375,000 metric tonnes to more than 800,000 metric tonnes. In 2013 our total cocoa exports reached $1.2bn, up from $900m the previous year. In 2014 we expect to reach over $1.4bn in cocoa exports.