3 out of 4 stars
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The outlook was bleak for Nigeria at the dawn of this century due to a host of overlapping unfortunate circumstances, including rapid population growth unmatched by sufficient food supply, massive importation of necessary commodities (many of which could be produced domestically but weren’t), high unemployment rates, and widespread poverty resulting in rampant malnutrition, hunger, and death. In addition, poor planning, weak infrastructure, and low availability of much-needed information and technology for the farmers of the nation invited unchecked corruption even at high levels of government. It seemed that Nigeria specifically, and Africa in general, could only expect to reap heartbreak and tragedy.
In Against All Odds, author Leon Hesser indirectly suggests that a tragedy is merely an opportunity unseized. He introduces his readers to Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, former Nigerian Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, a farmer’s son and grandson who sought education as an escape from generational poverty and then tirelessly applied that education to lifting his native land out of its own destructive pattern. After a brief personal and political biography of Dr. Adesina in Part 1 of 3, Hesser methodically itemizes the problems plaguing Nigeria in the early 2000s and attempts to trace their historical and physical sources. These were the Odds Dr. Adesina faced when he became Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture in 2010 with the ambitious objective of seeing to it that Nigeria (and, ultimately, Africa) became self-sufficient and prosperous through innovation, extensive collaboration, implementation of technology, eliminating fraud, supporting gender equality, improving efficiency, and destigmatizing farming in the minds of lenders and youth.
Against All Odds is encyclopedic in covering the process of Transforming African Agriculture (to quote the subtitle) from 2010 to the writing of the book, which was published in 2019. With the help of photos, informative graphs, quotes from those involved, and endless statistics, Hesser exhaustively describes each created government entity, fund, and strategy involved; every issue, hiccup, and unforeseen roadblock; and all of the value chains pre- and post-optimization. The author’s dedication to thoroughness often results in a dry reading experience, in my opinion. Honestly, what I anticipated to be largely a biographical work of an inspirational figure reads more like a how-to textbook on revamping and reinvigorating a national agricultural landscape. Perhaps I jumped to conclusions when I originally perused the book, but, despite the fact that it includes an acronym glossary, I was not expecting the onslaught of percentages, dollar amounts, and acronyms that rushed at me from nearly every page. For example:
I can only conclude that I am not one of the intended audience for Against All Odds, which would certainly be a priceless resource to someone fascinated with agricultural reform or for a government seeking to overcome similar challenges to its nation’s wellbeing. I do need to thank Hesser for expanding my vocabulary with words such as phytosanitary, transited, moribund, oleoresin, dicotyledonous, and acaricide, to name a few. Further limiting this book’s apparently narrow readership are the typographical, punctuation, and grammatical errors. They are minor but many and include incorrect and missing punctuation; inconsistent use of bold typeface, caps, and abbreviations; and occasional more glaring errors such as words in the wrong tense (“share” for “sharing”), exchange of homophones (“capital” and “capitol”), and missing words (“70% of had children”). Additionally, some of the graphs are difficult to read, and several of the hyperlinks are dead ends.“ENACTS will enable NIMET to develop this database and train staff from both NIMET and FMARD in data analysis.”
While the issues I found in this book prevent me from giving it a perfect rating, I wish I could award it 3.5 stars because it is not Leon Hesser’s fault that I am uninitiated to the subject matter and found myself a bit bewildered. I was encouraged by the sections and chapters whose amazing recent statistics illustrate the wild success of Nigeria’s Herculean efforts. I fully expect more good news about the “African renaissance” championed by Dr. Adesina, who, in his current position as president of the African Development Bank, is working with many others to scale up Nigeria’s transformation for the benefit of Africa at large. I sincerely hope Dr. Adesina proves prophetic when he says:
I recommend this book to people involved in any businesses within or affected by agriculture, students of or those interested in reform, and anyone who loves to root for the underdog. I award Leon Hesser’s work 3 out of 4 stars for educating me about life outside my protective bubble, fueling my compassion, and showcasing what a beautiful future is harvested when people work together, Against All Odds, to plant the seeds of hope.”We will arise and feed Africa. The day is coming very soon when all its children will be well-fed, when millions of small-holder farmers will be able to send their kids to school.”
Against All Odds
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