Profiles: Helping Farmers Feed Africa

August 30, 2011 08:05 PM
Gebisa Ejeta
The 2009 World Food Prize was awarded to former Purdue University scientist Dr. Gebisa Ejeta, whose sorghum hybrids resistant to drought and the devastating Striga weed have increased the production and availability of one of the world’s five principal grains.
PHOTO: Tom Campbell, Purdue University


Raised in a thatched hut with a mud floor in rural Ethiopia, Gebisa Ejeta understands poverty and food shortages on a deeply personal level. It’s why education and crop science is so important to Ejeta, and why he has pursued a lifetime of learning how to grow food to feed the planet.

As a child, he walked 12 miles every Sunday to attend school during the week and then back home on Friday. Ejeta rapidly ascended through schooling and later came to the U.S., achieving his Ph.D. in plant breeding and genetics from Purdue University. He accepted a position as a sorghum researcher in the Sudan office of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics.

Using drought-tolerant germplasm from hybrids in Niger and Sudan, Ejeta has developed life-saving, drought-resistant sorghum lines and released more than 70 parental lines for the U.S. seed industry. His dedication to helping poor farmers feed themselves and their families and rise out of poverty propelled him to leverage the gains of his hybrid breeding breakthrough.

By partnering with farmers across Africa, Ejeta has personally trained and inspired a new generation of African agricultural scientists who are carrying his work forward. A month after receiving the 2009 World Food Prize, Ejeta received his home country’s highest honor: the National Hero Award. In April, President Barack Obama appointed Ejeta to the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development.

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