Cotonou, Benin — “NERICA has been cited as a major agricultural research breakthrough of the last 30 years,” said Dr Monty Jones, World Food Prize laureate, at the recent launching of an annual lecture series named after him by the Africa Rice Center (WARDA) in Cotonou, Benin.
Dr Jones announced also that NERICA was among the first group of promising technologies identified by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) for the Dissemination of New Agricultural Technologies in Africa (DONATA) Program.
DONATA is a key effort to achieve the objectives of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme of the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.
Dr Jones, Executive Secretary of FARA, is the first and, until now, the only African to win the World Food Prize, known informally as the Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture. He received this prize in 2004 for his pioneering research at the Africa Rice Center (WARDA) that led to the NERICA breakthrough.
Expressing his deep gratitude to the Africa Rice Center (WARDA) for establishing the Dr Monty Jones Lecture, Dr Jones remarked, “This is the single most important institutional landmark that will be forever identified with my contributions to science and technology through agriculture.”
The announcement of the lecture series was made by the Africa Rice Center (WARDA) Director General Dr Papa Abdoulaye Seck during a special ceremony organized by the Center to honor Dr Jones, the Father of NERICA.
“It is for us a way to further immortalize a man, who has already carved his name in agricultural history,” Dr Seck stated in a glowing speech about Dr Jones’ invaluable contribution to Africa.
“Dr Jones has demonstrated by his remarkable contribution that it is possible to reshape the agricultural map of our continent through the African creative genius. The NERICA he developed is the hope of a whole continent—the weapon to fight hunger and achieve Africa’s food security,” Dr Seck added.
Citing the recent development of a new generation of NERICAs adapted to high-impact rice ecologies—an achievement by the Africa Rice Center (WARDA) scientist Dr Moussa Sié and his partners from national programs—Dr Seck said that Dr Monty Jones’ inspiring legacy continues to live on at the Center.
On behalf of the Africa Rice Center (WARDA), Dr Seck presented to Dr Jones a plaque recognizing his “outstanding achievement in rice research and exemplary dedicated service to Africa.”
Dr Jones was then invited to inaugurate the Center’s new Biotechnology Laboratory. Biotechnological tools, such as anther culture, had enabled Dr Jones and his team members in the 1990s to overcome fertility problems associated with interspecific crosses between the Asian and African rice species and to rapidly fix these lines (known subsequently as NERICAs).
At the end of his visit, Dr Jones said, ”Looking at the status of the work and the high staff morale, I am convinced that the Africa Rice Center (WARDA) is going from strength to strength and is moving in the right direction under the leadership of Dr Seck.”
Dr Jones assured that the Center could count on FARA’s support at all times. “FARA will explore further collaborative initiatives with the Africa Rice Center (WARDA),” he said.
The special ceremony was attended by government officials, national and international research institutions, donor agencies, diplomatic corps, non-governmental organizations, farmers’ associations, the private sector and media. One of the highlights of the program was a folk ballet on NERICA performed by a group of women farmers from Benin.
His Excellency Roger Dovonou, Minister for Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Fishery, Government of Benin; Dr Narcisse Djègui, Director General of Benin’s national agricultural research institute (INRAB); and Mr Pascal Gbénou, a farmer representative from Benin were among the panel of speakers.
Dr Jones was accompanied by his wife and daughter as well as senior FARA staff members. Describing his visit to the Center as a “wonderful homecoming,” he said that he and his family were very touched by the impressive arrangements and warm hospitality.