Ethiopian scientist wins World Food Prize for sorghum – By Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY

October 15th, 2009 Print Print Email Email

An Ethiopian agronomist who developed a drought- and weed-resistant form of sorghum, one of the world’s principals grains, is the winner of this year’s $250,000 World Food Prize. (more…)

An Ethiopian agronomist who developed a drought- and weed-resistant form of sorghum, one of the world’s principals grains, is the winner of this year’s $250,000 World Food Prize.

Gebisa Ejeta, now a professor of agronomy at Purdue University in West Layfayette, Ind., spent the 1980s and 1990s working in Sudan to create a form of sorghum that yields five to 10 times higher than traditionally grown sorghum.

Most Americans would know sorghum as the small, round yellow seeds commonly found in birdseed. It’s actually the second most important feed crop in the USA, mainly given to cattle and poultry and grown in Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska and Kansas, Ejeta says.

“A lot of people who grew up it the Midwest in the ’40s and ’50s would remember the old syrup for pancakes, made of milo,” as sorghum is sometimes called there, he says.

It’s also used to make gluten-free beers for people with celiac disease. But in Africa and Asia, it’s a major grain, used in porridge and bread, in making beer and popping like popcorn.

FDA: Gluten-free beer can be labeled as such

Sorghum feeds 500 million to 700 million people worldwide, Ejeta says. “It’s a huge crop in Africa; it’s a very important crop in India. In China it’s used for making their national alcoholic beverage,” baijiu, or white liquor.

The World Food Prize, known as the “Nobel for food,” was created in 1986 by Norman Borlaug, who himself won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work creating high-yielding crop varieties estimated to have saved more than 1 billion lives worldwide from famine. Borlaug died Sept. 9.

OBITUARY: ‘Green revolution’ Nobel winner Norman Borlaug dies

The Food Prize honors those who improve the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.

Ejeta, born in a one-room thatched hut in west-central Ethiopia, walked 12 miles to attend a nearby school, returning home only on the weekends. After graduating from Alemaya College in eastern Ethiopia, he received a Ph.D. in plant breeding and genetics from Purdue in 1978.

His then began to work on new sorghum varieties as a researcher at the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in Sudan. Ejeta’s hybrid, released in 1983, had yields 150% greater than local sorghum. By 1999, 1 million acres were being harvested by Sudanese farmers, feeding millions in that country. Ejeta also developed a drought-tolerant sorghum hybrid that fit conditions in Niger, which yielded four to five times the national sorghum average for that country.

Next, Ejeta turned his focus to a hugely harmful weed called striga, commonly known as witchweed. This parasite lives off corn, rice, millet, sugar cane and sorghum in much the way that mistletoe lives off trees. The United Nations estimates that it infests up to 40% of the arable savannah land in Africa.

“There was a small area in North and South Carolina that had striga in the 1950s,” Ejeta says. “It took the USDA nearly 30 years to eradicate it.”

Working with colleagues at Purdue, Ejeta bred a sorghum variety that is resistant to witchweed. Various aid groups have distributed the seed in numerous African countries. Yields have increased as much as four times over local varieties, even in times of severe drought.

Ejeta will receive the $250,000 World Food Prize in a ceremony at the Iowa State Capitol Oct. 15.

Most and more development programs are realizing the crucial role that agriculture plays in raising the living standards of the world’s poorest people. Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will speak Thursday at the World Food Prize in Des Moines, where he is expected to announce nine grants totaling $120 million for programs aiding small farmers.

WEBCAST: Watch it Thursday a.m.

“Melinda and I believe that helping the poorest small-holder farmers grow more crops and get them to market is the world’s single most powerful lever for reducing hunger and poverty,” Gates says in a draft of his speech released by the foundation.

  1. Anonymous
    | #1

    Congratulations Gebissa! I am proud to be an Alemayan.Good job!Keep it up and thank you.

    Saba

  2. Bekele
    | #2

    Congratulations to Prof Gebisa.He makes us all proud of his wonderful achievements.I am sure that his success story is the culmination of years of hard work carried out with passion,determination,focus and self-belief which,I think,the rest of us should emulate.

    No doubt,Prof.Gebisa is helped also by the conducive working environment and talent-nurturing open society he finds himself in to realise his native talent.While the rest of our people are also so enterprising and so gifted,we only hear one success story for nine other failures that are occasioned by a lack of a good economic and political system that can harness the potential of our bright compatriots and permit them to blossom.

    This is very lamentable,indeed.And this has been our monumental failure.
    Therefore,reversing this with a sense of unity,urgency,foresight and faith constitutes our greatest success yet to be recorded.Tragically,our current leaders do not seem to be imbued with that vision.

    Once again,Congra!and my hats off to Prof Gebisa!

  3. Anonymous
    | #3

    well doen!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. sol
    | #4

    congratulation !

  5. AMHARA ETHIOPIAN
    | #5

    ONGRATULATION Prof. Gebisa Ejeta !! Now You have accomplished the greatest task in the research of scientific knowledge. This is the greatest wealth that professional looters like WEYANE can not steal from you. While they have a policy to keep certain school district not to go beyond forth greade, you said, “NO ! WE WILL EXCEL BEYOUND AND ABOVE PhD.

  6. mateos
    | #6

    I can not be any prouder to see, 1st- an Ethiopian man to win such prize for just doing the rightest thing for himself and hopefully for what an average Ethiopian needs in this criss-cross roads of where Ethiopians are in the hands of a bunch of aiga jungle products; this just shows Ethiopia or any African nations are capable of handling their own affairs IF GIVEN A CHANCE, BUT, THANKS TO GREEDY MODERN AND SOPHISTICATED SLAVES, ETHIOPIANS CONTINUE TO BE LED A BUNCH OF SHORT SIGHTED CRIMINALS WHOSE PRIMARY JOB IS TO ELIMINATE WHAT MAKES AN ETHIOPIAN. 2nd- I hope the all aid this and aid that organizations such are milking their tax payers citizens in the name of “THE EHIOPIANS CHILDREN” would just pack and leave Ethiopian alone. Again congratulation dearest professor! in my opinion your prize is 10 times better than others!

  7. Gizachew Adamu
    | #7

    Dear Prof Gebisa,

    Please accept my sincere congradulations. Please keep up the good work.

    Kind regards

    Gizachew

  8. Anonymous
    | #8

    It is an over due award, but better than never. Gebisa did most of his work while he was in Alemaya College in the 70s and later in the Sudan when working for an international organization. I beileve several versions of the breeds have been released in Ethiopia as well as other countries over the past years. At any rate, Gebisa deserves every bit of the award. The sad part, Gebisa received all his educations, from elementary to university including free food and room at the expense of Ethiopian tax payers. Poor Ethiopian farmers paid dearly to pay for Gebisa’s education. Now, Gebisa is shining where as Ethiopian poor farmers are getting poorer and poorer and dieing of starvations. I am mentioning this neither to hold Gebisa accountable for the cost Ethiopia invested on him, nor to make him guilty of not serving his own country. It is rather to indicate how Ethiopia is unfortunate to benefit from her talented boys like Gebisa myself included. It is an over due award, but better than never. Gebisa did most of his work while he was in Alemaya College in the 70s and later in the Sudan when working for an international organization. I beileve several versions of the breeds have been released in Ethiopia as well as other countries over the past years. At any rate, Gebisa deserves every bit of the award.
    The sad part, Gebisa received all his educations, from elementary to university including free food and room at the expense of Ethiopian tax payers including poor farmers. Now, Gebisa is shining whereas Ethiopian tax payers getting poorer and poorer. I am mentioning this neither to hold Gebisa accountable for the cost Ethiopia invested on him nor to make him guilty of not serving his own country. It is rather to indicate how Ethiopia is unfortunate to benefit from her talented citizens like Gebisa, myself included.

  9. Teshome
    | #9

    It is an over due award, but better than never. Gebisa did most of his work while he was in Alemaya College in the 70s and later in the Sudan when working for an international organization. I beileve several versions of the breeds have been released in Ethiopia as well as other countries over the past years. At any rate, Gebisa deserves every bit of the award. The sad part, Gebisa received all his educations, from elementary to university including free food and room at the expense of Ethiopian tax payers. Poor Ethiopian farmers paid dearly to pay for Gebisa’s education. Now, Gebisa is shining where as Ethiopian poor farmers are getting poorer and poorer and dieing of starvations. I am mentioning this neither to hold Gebisa accountable for the cost Ethiopia invested on him, nor to make him guilty of not serving his own country. It is rather to indicate how Ethiopia is unfortunate to benefit from her talented boys like Gebisa myself included. It is an over due award, but better than never. Gebisa did most of his work while he was in Alemaya College in the 70s and later in the Sudan when working for an international organization. I beileve several versions of the breeds have been released in Ethiopia as well as other countries over the past years. At any rate, Gebisa deserves every bit of the award.
    The sad part, Gebisa received all his educations, from elementary to university including free food and room at the expense of Ethiopian tax payers including poor farmers. Now, Gebisa is shining whereas Ethiopian tax payers getting poorer and poorer. I am mentioning this neither to hold Gebisa accountable for the cost Ethiopia invested on him nor to make him guilty of not serving his own country. It is rather to indicate how Ethiopia is unfortunate to benefit from her talented citizens like Gebisa, myself included.

  10. Anti-woyane
    | #10

    Congratulations dear professor Gebissa Ijeta.Your success has created a
    a base in our(youths in a science dicipline) heart to think about our futue. Yes we can!!!Congratulations once again &I’m really proud of you!

  11. Bekele
    | #11

    Dear Teshome,

    Thank you for your additional information on the early years of the Prof in Ethiopia.

    In reaction to your thoughtful comments,this is what I would like to say.WE SHOULD KEEP HOPE ALIVE.There will certainly come a day when we shall go back to our beloved country and serve our people with humility and gratitude for all the good things that they had done for us.
    In the mean time,guided by a sense of self-pride,decency and diligence, we should strive to be the best of our selves thus serving worthy role models to the younger ones around us including our children.

    In this regard,I think it is important that we chronicle our personal struggles,frustrations,disappointments,hopes and triumphs and pass these stories to the coming generations.

    It is a shame that while we are the proud owners of one of the oldest scripts in the world,we are however a people who have written perhaps the least about ourselves.

    I wonder if Prof Gebissa has any intention of writing his autobiography
    either in Amharic or Afan Oromo.

  12. sew
    | #12

    genetic manipulation??

  13. ETHIOPIAN from Boston
    | #13

    Yesterday, Friday , October 16, 2009, I heard a VOA news praising his accomplishments and also heard the professor’s voice in the background as well as his brief answer to the question presented. My question is why the professor did speak in English while VOA Amharic service is designed only for Amharic listners. I found this cinario similar to Bereket Simon of TPLF who refused to answer any question in Amharic because he either considered Amharic as enemy’s (AMHARA’s) language. If this is the case, then I must regreat for praising him as indicated on Comment No.5, above and withdrew my praise eventhougth that does not meant his accomplishment is reduced to anything at all. IT IS JUST A MATTER OF PRINCIPLE. If the professor has any compelling (convincing reason) for choosing English over Amharic, this comment shall be null and void, however.

  14. Ethio boy
    | #14

    Althoug we,Ethiopian,had enough of Professor Gebissa Ijetas’ type OutSmart World class scientist, our Agriculture policy was designed by terrorists who came from the jungle of Tigray and had NO any idea of Science and Environment,and who had only expert in stealing the property of Ethiopian people and killing innocents.
    Their backward Policy,which was coppied from outside lead Ethiopia to the rank of “the poorer county in the world who is affected by re-current drought and famine”
    Even Mengistus’agriculture policy was much,much better than them.

    አይ አንች ያልታደልሽ ኢትዮጵያ!! የወላድ መካን !! ልጆችሽን ከረሃብ የሚያድን አዋቂ ሳታጭ; የመሃይማን ሽፍታዎች መጫወቻ ሆንሽ!! ልጆችሽም በረሃብና በድህነት የሰቀቀን ኑሮ ይገፋሉ::አይይይይይይይይይይይይይይ!!!!!

  15. aha!
    | #15

    First of all congratulation is in order. Having said that, it should inspire the Barley Breeders at the Institute of Agricultural Research in Addis Abeba to breed for frost and drought resistant barley crop in the highlands of Ethiopia to complement a project proposal of revitalization of the highlands with companion legume crops with minimal fertilizer cost and soil conservation practices, that frees farmers from fertilizer debt with no production increase. I have the project plan for the latter to be coupled with a breeding program and project proposal with this prize awarding foundations, like Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation.

  16. Mesfin
    | #16

    The Ethiopian from Boston, I would suggest to you to go back and listen to both the Amharic and Affan Oromo news,The professor was interviewed by an American journalist.Both radio stations broad casted from the same clip.
    But in another interview with in this last month by Voa Amharic service he talked a lot with Tizita or Alula about his research and great successes.
    I want you to know the fact.Professor Gebissa is not only a proud Ethiopian He is also a proud citizen of the world.Great people contributions always make the world as a whole a better place.

  17. ETHIOPIAN from Boston
    | #17

    TO MESFIN

    Thank you for your message. I have no time to go back and listen the various intervies conducted on Professor Gebessa Ejeta but I took your word for granted as a valid testimony for this case. But what I have alleg is still true because on the day and time I mentioned, his was answer in English. Trusting your testimony, therefore, my praise to professor Geissa Ejeta shall STAND as indicated on comment No. 5.

    Thank you AGAIN for the information.

  18. Aweke
    | #18

    Hey! Mesfin he is the Scientst. We all have to proud of him, wether he spoke English, Afan Oromo or Amaharic. Why you narrow down your mind? Be open minded and respect hero Ethiopians regardless of language.

  19. ETHIOPIAN from Boston
    | #19

    Mr. AWEKE

    Then you have to proud for Bereket Simon’s choice of English over Amharic, since his refusal to speak on VOA in Amharic was that Amharic as Amhara’s language, was considered as an enemy’s language for the Tigrians? From that logic was the first question was raised and the response followed by Mesfin. First get the source of the debate, then forword the question to me not to Mesfin – make sense??

  20. Aster
    | #20

    ETHIOPIAN from Boston,
    Why do you want Dr. Gebissa Ijeta to speak in Amahric? Why didn’t you ask Dr.Gebissa Ijeta to speak in Oromifa? He is Oromo not Amhara(Gojame or Gondere). Do you think Amahric is better than his language? The time is here when you have speak Oromifa to get employed to work in public office in Ethiopia. I ask Dr.Gebissa Ijeta to invent some sort of gentic Manipulation for ‘you’ Amahra. You must learn to appreciate Your Oromo brothers language too. You suffer from inferiority complex that is why you wnat to force yourself on others. Your kind of mentality is destroying the social fabric of human society.

  21. Ethio boy
    | #21

    ጎበዝ እባካችሁ? ዝም ብለን የማይሆን ነገር በመናገር እራሳችንን ትዝብት ውስጥ አንክተት:: እኝህ የተከበሩ ሳይንቲስት እንዲህ ያለ
    የወራዳ ( የዘረኝነት ) ተግባር ውስጥ የሉበትም:: ይህንን የዘረኝነት ነቀርሳ ከትግሬ የበቀሉ ከሃዲዎች ናቸው ያመጡብን::
    ፕሮፌሰር ገቢሳ ኢጀታ ኩሩ ኢትዮጵያዊ : ኩሩ የ ኦሮሞ አርሶ አደር ልጅ ናቸው:: በ1960ዎቹ መጀመርያ ከአለማያ ሲመረቁ ከቀዳማዊ ሃይለ ስላሴ እጅ ሽልማት የተቀበሉ : ለሃገራቸውም ሆነ ለወገናቸው የሚያስቡ ደግ ናቸው:: ይህ የትግራይ ወንበዼዎች
    የተከሉብን ነቀርሳ (ዘረኝነት) አይነካካቸውም::

    Long Live professor!! We are proudof YOU!!!

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