Dr Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), is calling for higher levels of co-investment between the regions of Africa and the Caribbean, noting that many opportunities are going untapped because investors on both sides perceive higher levels of risk than there actually are.
He noted that the AfDB had launched a US$1.5-billion emergency food production project which aims to substitute 38 million tonnes of imported food. “These projects have lessons for the Caribbean. Caribbean countries can feed themselves,” Adesina stated without expanding.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with the Jamaica Observer’s Julian Rogers during the Caribbean Development Bank’s (CDB’s) 52nd annual meeting, June 13-16 in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands, Adesina said the Caribbean could also draw lessons from development projects done in Africa which have transformed access to food and to basic services in the last six years.
Responding to the question of why Caribbean peoples tend to look to North America and not to Africa for investment opportunities, Adesina commented, “People [may] think investing in Africa is risky. [However], we set up the African investment fund and in less than 72 hours we had US$40.1 billion in commitments in 2019. COVID came and paused that, but we did it again this year, raising over US$30 billion in commitments.”
The bank head said that fora such as the African-Caribbean investment forum are joint partnerships which open opportunities for both regions.
Commenting on why connections via shipping and air were limited between the regions, he said, “People do not realise about the economic opportunities. From both sides investors are saying the risk premium is high. Secondly, we need to get communities to co-invest.”
Adesina said that the Caribbean region represented opportunities in Agriculture and in education and training. “We have agreed with the CDB on looking at opportunities in agriculture and education,” he stated.
Approach to development
Sharing his approach to development, Adesina said, “Because I came from poverty myself I am very aware of the need to move quickly. It’s not complicated. I target what I do not like and do the opposite.” Targets under the AfDB, he said, include access to electricity, food security, industrialisation, integrating Africa and improving the quality of life.
Adesina stated, “What I fight is poverty. My whole life is dedicated to making poverty history for people. I do not have patience for underdevelopment.”
He highlighted that the work of the AfDB has focused on increasing access to basic needs, jobs, electricity, access to financing and more.
In relation to food security, which is a worldwide concern, the banking head commented, “There is no industry that can exist without food. It is the biggest industry. Agriculture is not a way of life. It is a business, the biggest business. In Africa it is worth trillions.”
Adesina said he had engaged the president of the CDB about how to increase the productivity of agriculture, building value chains from the bottom, making note that Guyana has offered land to other Caribbean states for agriculture projects.
The AfDB head admitted that parents in Africa, as in the Caribbean, ask their children to stay away from agriculture, as he did. “My father did not want us to be farmers. His first choices were in medicine.”
Adesina, who possesses a PhD in Agriculture, said focus should be laid in getting “young people to realise agriculture is a business…It’s a big market…whether you are producing rice or oranges…you are processing or adding value. Agriculture is really big.”
Development under the high five programme
The AfDB for the last six years has targeted a high five development strategy which has positively impacted the lives of 335 million people across the continent.
Among these are over 21 million Africans who now have access to electricity; 71 million now engaged in agriculture; 12 million who have gained access to finance; 69 million who have new and improved transport and 50 million individuals who are now benefiting from improved sanitation projects.
The AfDB, Adesina stated, has financed the largest solar power plant in the world, which is now located on the African continent and the largest known power stations. It also has a new plant in the desert which will generates electricity for 20 million people. Meanwhile, he added, the AfDB has also brought down the cost of electricity connection under a related programme.
He told the Business Observer, “Today we are working on the same high fives. I don’t see any dignity in begging for food. We should take care of business. Produce your own food.”
Adesina said Caricom provides the opportunity for common purpose and development and should target a community which is well developed and integrated into international financial markets.
He noted, “When you have a group you are able to increase influence and reduce vulnerability. Countries that trade more among themselves are less exposed to global volatility.”
At the end of the day, he counseled, a bigger pool of capital is needed to support greater financial integration of the Caribbean. Adesina, noting that the Caribbean loses US$3 billion every year because of storms, said the group should target building resilience.
Caricom nations, he stated, should “Seek their own share of funds for climate resilience to build resilience. Hurricanes destroy infrastructure and create debt. There are also the consequences of debt, which grows when there are inadequate resources to deal with shocks. Global climate financing needs to accelerate attention to the Caribbean.
Adesina illustrated, “We have the Africa Financial Stability mechanism which acts as a buffer for such challenges. These are things we (in the Caribbean) need to do. The people at home need to be protected by financial systems to ensure we have the buffers needed for resilience.”