The role of subsidies in the push to increase food production in Africa can be a sensitive topic. But Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture, Akinwumi Adesina, was unapologetic Monday in his defense of subsidies, arguing that African farmers deserve the same kind of support lavished on their peers in developed countries.
“While developed countries support their farmers with massive subsidies, African farmers, who are poor, are barely supported,” Adesina said.
His comments came during the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF) high-level policy dialogue—an event preceding the official start of the 2014 African Green Revolution Forum, which officially gets underway Tuesday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Adesina was later challenged by a member of the audience who portrayed farm subsides as government programs that are particularly vulnerable to corruption. But he refused to back down.
“The problem is not subsidies,” Adesina said, “but how subsidies are delivered.”
Adesina noted that he has worked in Nigeria to end “four decades” of corruption in a government program that distributed seeds and fertilizers to farmers. The key, he said, was to move it to the private sector. Farmers in Nigeria now get “electronic coupons” delivered to their mobile phones that they can use to purchase seeds and fertilizers.
Adesina believes that subsidy programs—if transparent and efficient—are particularly important “in the early phases of agricultural transformation to ensure that the poor, especially women and smallholders, benefit from technical change.”
He pointed out that subsidies have been critical to spurring rapid progress in food production in the developing world, and that African countries should take note.
“If it had not been for subsidies, India would not be the powerhouse it is today,” he said. “It’s what kick-started the transformation of India’s and Asia’s economy.”