The halls bustle with colorful booths showcasing fufu-making machines and dried maize seed specimens. Technicians scurry through seminar halls with microphones and extension cords in tow. Lanyard-adorned participants poke their heads in and out of sessions or tap furiously on their laptops. Everything is proceeding as normal on the 3rd day of the 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week in Accra, Ghana, convened by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA).
Meanwhile, quietly in the background, a momentous change is imminent: Professor Monty P. Jones, World Food Prize winner in 2004, dynamic founder and flag-bearer of FARA, is preparing to act out his final week as executive director of the forum before stepping down from the post.
Professor Jones founded FARA in 2002, and since then has taken the organization from a one-man-operation to a global force on the Agricultural Research for Development (AR4D) stage. In the process, he and FARA have brought unprecedented levels of recognition to African voices and priorities in agricultural research.
In the sunset of his tenure as executive director of FARA, Prof. Jones took some time to reflect on the journey: the changes, challenges, successes, and things to come.
“FARA has come a very long way since the early days,” he remembers, “back when we had only 5 people on the staff and $300,000 in the kitty.” Indeed, FARA became the driving force behind the agricultural agenda for the entire African continent with its involvement in the development of the pivotal CAADP, or Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme.
“That was a milestone for us,” says Prof. Jones. “The draft for CAADP was produced by FARA, and since then we have been captivated by the entire process. Everything we do revolves around that programme.”
Professor Jones is most proud of the fact that CAADP, thanks to FARA’s involvement, is now a truly comprehensive framework. In 2007 FARA started laying out its strategy to get other entities involved in the CAADP goals and objectives. “We wanted to ensure that it was not just FARA involved, but all the sub-regional organizations in Africa,” he explains. “And we wanted to ensure that those organizations went beyond just research entities to include extension and advisory services, the private sector, and NGOs.”
Their success on that front has been considerable; FARA is now looked to as the “apex” body for agricultural research for the continent due to its role in uniting disparate organizations under the common banner of agricultural development. “One thing I’m also proud of is that all these entities are now part and parcel of the FARA constituents,” Prof. Jones affirms. “They are all represented in our boards, and they are represented in all the boards of the African sub-regional organizations—that is a huge achievement.”
Indeed, perhaps FARA’s most distinguished contribution to AR4D during Prof. Jones’ time as director has been “breaking down the walls” that separated these entities, bringing them under the ideological umbrella of CAADP’s 4th pillar: Improving agricultural research, technology dissemination and adoption.
In the course of working with these groups, FARA has rolled out a sweeping program of region-wide initiatives. Extensive consultation with a wide variety of partners as part of these initiatives has allowed FARA to identify the key research areas where it needs to intervene and to solicit the funds to go along with them—the key to its current high levels of success and impact across the continent and the world.
FARA is now a far cry from the humble start-up that it once was. “We are in the global system,” Prof. Jones declares. “We served as the chair of the Global Forum for Agricultural Research (GFAR). We helped them come up with the roadmap for global agricultural development.” And, perhaps most importantly in the context of this week’s conference in Accra, “African voices were heard in the development of that roadmap.”
Professor Jones says that he is happy to be leaving at this time. FARA, he explains, is in a good place, and his successor will bring a wealth of experience to build on the considerable foundation he will leave behind. In any case, this is hardly the last we will hear from Prof. Jones; he goes on to join the office of the President of Sierra Leone, as senior special advisor and ambassador at large for his home country.
This is good news for Africa and for agriculture. With Prof. Jones as an advocate, we can expect continued recognition—and definite progress—for the most pressing issues in agricultural research for development.
Blogpost by Caity Peterson, a social media reporter for AASW6.
Photo: K. Lopez (IITA)