2009 World Food Prize Winner to Speak at ISU on October 12

2009 World Food Prize winner, Gebisa Ejeta, will present Iowa State University's annual Norman Borlaug Lecture Oct. 12 on the Ames campus.

Published on: Oct 5, 2009
Gebisa Ejeta, the 2009 World Food Prize recipient, will present the 8th annual Norman Borlaug Lecture at Iowa State University on Monday, Oct. 12 in Ames.  

Ejeta's presentation, "Revitalizing Agricultural Research for Global Food Security," will be at 8 p.m. in the Memorial Union Sun Room. A reception and student poster competition on world food issues will be at 7 p.m. in the South Ballroom. All events are free and open to the public.

Ejeta will receive the 2009 World Food Prize at the annual ceremony held at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Thursday, Oct. 15. He is being honored for his development of sorghum hybrids that are resistant to drought and the devastating Striga weed. The hybrids have dramatically increased the production and availability of one of the world's five principal grains and enhanced the food supply of hundreds of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa.

From humble beginnings, he became a plant breeder

Born in rural Ethiopia in 1950, Ejeta grew up in a one-room thatched hut with a mud floor. Because of his mother's deep belief in education and her struggle to provide her son with access to local teachers and schools, Ejeta achieved high academic standing and attended college. In 1973, he earned his bachelor's degree in plant science. The following year, he was given the opportunity to study with a renowned sorghum researcher, John Axtell, at Purdue University, where he earned his doctoral degree in plant breeding and genetics.

As a sorghum researcher at the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in Sudan, Ejeta developed the first hybrid sorghum varieties for Africa that were drought-tolerant and high yielding. Because sorghum was so important to the local diet, and dryland agriculture in Sudan had such vast potential, his hybrids brought dramatic gains in crop productivity and catalyzed the initiation of a commercial sorghum seed industry in the country.

Farmers widely and rapidly accepted Ejeta's hybrid, which had yields more than 150% greater than local sorghum. By 1999, one million acres had been harvested and fed to millions of Sudanese.

Developed improved sorghum varieties for African conditions

In the 1990s, Ejeta tackled the greatest biological impediment to food production in Africa - the deadly parasitic weed Striga. Commonly known as witchweed, Striga devastates yields of maize, rice, pearl millet, sugarcane and sorghum, severely limiting food availability. Ejeta and a colleague identified genes for Striga resistance and transferred them into locally adapted sorghum varieties and improved sorghum cultivars. The new sorghum also possessed broad adaptation to different African ecological conditions and farming systems.

Working with international relief and development organizations, Ejeta disseminated 8 tons of seed in Striga-endemic African countries. The yield increases have been as much as four times the previous yields.

Ejeta's scientific breakthroughs in breeding drought-tolerant and Striga-resistant sorghum have been combined with his persistent efforts to foster economic development and to empower subsistence farmers through the creation of agricultural enterprises in rural Africa. In addition, by partnering with leaders and farmers across sub-Saharan Africa and educational institutions throughout the world, Ejeta has personally trained and inspired a new generation of African agricultural scientists who are carrying forth his work.

ISU holds this lecture annually in conjunction with WFP events

The Norman Borlaug annual lecture at ISU is named for the Cresco, Iowa, native and agronomist whose discoveries sparked the Green Revolution. Borlaug, who died Sept. 12, 2009 at the age of 95, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his international work in wheat research and production, which has saved millions of lives.

Borlaug is the founder of the World Food Prize, which annually recognizes the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world. Iowa State University created this lecture series to be held annually in conjunction with World Food Prize events which take place in Des Moines each year in October. The World Food Prize Foundation is headquartered in Des Moines.
The Norman Borlaug Lecture is coordinated by Iowa State University's Nutritional Sciences Council and funded by the University Committee on Lectures (funded by the Government of the Student Body). The poster competition is sponsored by the colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Human Sciences, and the Liberal Arts and Sciences. Additional information is available online at www.lectures.iastate.edu