A dedicated career scientist, Dr. Monty Jones did not expect to become a global phenomenon. Yet, with his perseverance and commitment to finding a food solution for Africa, Jones has been listed as one of the most influential people in the world.
Dr. Jones’ story is that of a real home-grown talent; having been born, raised and educated in Sierra Leone – earning a Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Sierra Leone at the debut of his brilliant scientific career. Taking up a position at the West Africa Rice Development Agency, Jones – through his innate economic acumen – knew early on that the answer to African food scarcity issues lay in developing production of the popular staple. As such he dedicated the majority of his work to rice breeding and research in his home country of Sierra Leone.
The wind of change came in 1991, when Jones joined the Upland Rice Breeding Programme at the Africa Rice Centre (WARDA) – charged with developing a new type of rice that would be suitable for mass-production in the West-African region, in an attempt to decrease the occurrence of famine in the area. Jones spent the next years in research; eventually reaching a break-through in 1994 that would make his career and shoot him to the forefront of global attention: he created the NERICA breed of rice – the “New Rice for Africa”.
NERICA rice crosses Asian and African types of rice, for a combination plant that displays high-yields, short growth cycles and increased protein content – while being suited to the climate and growing conditions of the West African region. As such, Jones was hailed as having found the solution to famine and the financial woes of West African farmers.
He rocketed into the global eye, being awarded the 2004 World Food Prize in the year that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN FAO) declared to be The International Year of Rice. Flown to the USA, he received the $ 250,000 cash prize alongside co-winner and eminent Asian rice scientist Professor Yuan Longping, to much media publicity and world-wide accolade.
Shortly thereafter, in 2007, Jones was voted by TIME magazine to be one of the top 100 most influential people in the world, with TIME explaining that: “When Africa breaks free from the grip of poverty and famine—as it now looks poised to do—Monty Jones, 56, will have played a pivotal role”.
Now executive director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), Jones is a keen advocate of the potential of NERICA to become a commercial product for subsistence farmers, should they have the skills and support to implement production and sales enterprises. He argues that subsistence and small-scale producers in rural West Africa should be supported in growing their businesses, and in particular, they should be encouraged to specialise in rice farming as opposed to following the current traditional model of producing little of a number of basic products. In other words, a new model for small-scale farmers needs to be implemented in the region. However, in order to do this, financial support becomes a necessity which many are currently lacking.
Jones explains: “Nobody needs to encourage small-scale farmers to become more commercial because no one is more keenly aware of profit and loss than they are… Some small-scale producers are so lacking in resources that they are merely scratching a living from day-to-day and cannot produce marketable surpluses. They need a cash injection and often readily available innovations to break out of the poverty trap and have the means to stop having to mine their land and invest in improvements”.
Jones believes that commercial banks are the next group that need to step forward and devise attainable funding opportunities for small-scale farmers in the region, if the area’s low-level economy is to become stabilised. While he accepts that innovative funding plans will have to be devised in order to cut risks, he argues: “Agriculture is Africa’s dominant industry so it follows that the commercial banks have a huge opportunity and responsibility in assisting its development.”
From rice breeder to pioneer in defeating Africa’s food scarcity issues, Dr. Jones’ career demonstrates that everyone in all sectors can play a pivotal role in stabilising and growing Africa’s economy. To his credit, Jones has focused on stabilising the economy from the bottom-up, which is the sure way to creating a lasting and strong economic environment.