On an Agriculturalist

The myth of the Small American Farmer has been such for at least the past 70 years or so. Corporate farms–large plant or meat-growing facilities, owned and operated at the lowest cost and highest profit possible–have been the norm since the end of World War 2. But that’s not the case in much of the world in Africa and parts of Asia and the India subcontinent.

There, and, to be fair, in parts of South America as well, subsistence farming or small-profit farming is the norm. We in the west can’t relate to the cycle of plant/pray/harvest that much of the world endures yearly. Add to this fact that the world climate is changing, that African rainfall amounts that were stingy to begin with are now even more capricious and precious, that soils that were sandy are becoming even more so, that what remains of African forests (forests that are key to producing rainfall) are being destroyed at an exponentially astounding rate.

Enter into this bleak picture one Monty Jones. Monty Jones was born in the east African nation of Sierra Leone in 1951, and he received university degrees in agriculture and plant genetics from universities across the continent culminating with a doctorate from a university in the UK. Monty grew up with the realization that African agriculture was inadequate for meeting the needs of the population and would, over time, become more so. He’s one of those visionaries who can see a situation and size it up quickly and then look for possible options that would serve as solutions. And he applied this gift to the food crisis on his native continent.

Monty realized that there were some things that he/we could realistically control and many that we could not. He knew that he would be unable to apply political or economic pressure to those who were destroying the forests and changing the planet’s temperature. So, Monty set himself to deal with those factors he could control as much as national/regional politics, economics, and climate would allow him. To organize this large-scale venture, Monty set up an organization called NERICA–New Rice for Africa. It would be not only the group that would work with governments but also be the fundraising, education, and implementation arm of the work. Monty knew that such a large task as working to transform the agriculture of a goodly chunk of a continent required a good organization, and that’s what NERICA is.

Here was the issue as Monty saw it. How could he get African rice, which is drought resistant, pest resistant, and grows well in sandy soil, to be as productive as Asian rice, which produces much higher yields with a much higher nutrition content? Monty developed the method of creating a hybrid of the two types, and, interestingly, he actually improved both strands of the crop. His hybrid rice achieved all he hoped it would, but it also created a strand that increased yield in a shorter growing cycle. Now, the spread of Monty’s strain of rice is still going on across Africa as he and NERICA face political, cultural, and traditional barriers, but the potential of the hybrid to at least begin to address the African food crisis is astounding and promising. Time magazine recognized Monty as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

And that solution of a hybrid rice strain is the reason much of the world knows who Monty Jones is.

And because you can simply go to the store and get anything you wish without having to consider how or when or why it was produced–that’s the reason you don’t.

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