Rarely are the titles scientist, President of a United Nations agency, inspirational leader, and advocate for the poor used to describe one person. This unique honour goes to Dr. Kanayo F. Nwanze, an innovative agriculture researcher who helped revitalize rice production in Africa and now serves a President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
For decades, Dr. Nwanze has been an astute friend and a vocal champion for Africa’s smallholder farmers, who comprise up to 70 percent of the population. In 2009, he took the helm at IFAD, a UN agency dedicated to eradicating rural poverty. He immediately transformed it into a prominent and vital voice for the world’s farmers, and especially African farmers. He has labored to ensure that agriculture is prominent on the international development agenda and presided over IFAD’s dramatic growth. In Africa, IFAD expanded from six outposts to 20, investments more than doubled—from US$1.3 billion at the start of Nwanze’s tenure to $2.7 billion in 2015—and they reached more than 75 million rural people.
Dr. Nwanze has re-oriented IFAD financing so that investments go to the people responsible for producing Africa’s food. It is his strong belief that their prosperity will propel the continent toward an economically successful, food-secure future. He also has channeled support to address the basic needs of Africa’s neglected rural farm communities—to support their roads, energy sources, irrigation systems, social services, schools and clinics. His goal is a rural economy where people can lift themselves out of poverty and there are opportunities that encourage young agriculture entrepreneurs to stay and make a life for themselves and their families.
In an unusually honest open letter to the African Union Heads of State ahead of the 23rd African Union (AU) Summit in 2014, Dr. Nwanze made a simple request: “Don’t just promise development, deliver it, make it happen now.” He reminded them that today, most Africans depend wholly or partly on agriculture for their livelihoods, yet the vast majority of them live below the poverty line. Speaking on behalf of millions across the continent, he emphasized that Africa’s farmers do not need pity and handouts. Rather, they need access to markets and finance, secure land rights, agriculture expertise, technology and government policies that support small farms and make it easier for them to do business.
Dr. Nwanze also is a champion of gender equality in agriculture for the simple reason that “no nation has been able to transform itself without giving women the same rights and opportunities as men.” He dedicated his Africa Food Prize to Africa’s women farmers. “Our hope for future generations rests with African women who bear and raise our young people who will shape the African continent in the years to come.”
Based on all of this, Dr. Kanayo is recognized for his visionary leadership and passionate advocacy to place African smallholder farmers at the centre of the global agricultural agenda, and for his demonstrated success in advancing policies, programs and resources that have improved the lives of millions across the continent.