AUBURN – Ethiopia-born Gebisa Ejeta will address the challenges of feeding the Earth’s growing population, Thursday, Nov. 3, as the Auburn University College of Agriculture’s fall 2011 York Distinguished Lecturer. He will speak on “Meeting Global Food Demands: Research and Education Needs,” at 7 p.m. in The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center ballroom.
Ejeta is an internationally acclaimed Purdue University plant breeder whose development of improved sorghum cultivars for food and feed use worldwide earned him the 2009 World Food Prize.
Sorghum is a life-sustaining cereal crop for more than 500 million people on the African continent, including Ethiopia and other developing sub-Saharan African nations. Throughout his career, Ejeta has focused on breeding genetically improved varieties of the grain in terms of nutritional quality, increased yields, tolerance to drought and cold and resistance to pests, diseases and, in particular, a crop-destroying parasitic weed known as Striga.
When his drought-tolerant, Striga-resistant sorghum hybrid was released in 1994, Ejeta was instrumental in deploying eight tons of seeds to the African nations of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, and farmers in those countries reported yields of as much as four times higher than traditional sorghum crops.
Ejeta grew up in a one-room hut in a remote village in west-central Ethiopia with a mother who strongly believed in education and struggled to ensure her son had access to local teachers and schools.
In 1973, Ejeta earned a bachelor of science degree in plant sciences from Ethiopia’s Alemaya College and then entered graduate school at Purdue, where he received his master’s and Ph.D. degrees in plant breeding and genetics in 1976 and 1978, respectively. The following year, he joined the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics and for five years conducted groundbreaking sorghum research in Sudan. He returned to Purdue as a faculty member in 1984 and currently holds the position of Distinguished Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics and International Agriculture.
The World Food Prize, widely considered to be the Nobel Prize of agriculture and food production, was presented to Ejeta in October 2009 for his role in dramatically enhancing the food security of millions of small farmers in his native Africa. Less than a month later, the president of Ethiopia presented Ejeta the National Hero Award, the country’s highest honor. It marked the first and only time the award has gone to an Ethiopian for work in science and technology.
The E.T. York Distinguished Lecturer Series at Auburn University features internationally known scientists speaking on a wide range of topics at public and technical lectures and seminars on campus. The series was established in the College of Agriculture in 1981 through an endowment from the late E.T. York and his widow, Vam Cardwell York, both native Alabamians and Auburn graduates. York served as head of the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service from 1959 until 1962, then went on to serve as director of the Federal Extension Service in Washington, D.C., as provost and vice president for agriculture at the University of Florida and then as chancellor of the State University System of Florida. He retired in 1980 and passed away in April 2011.
Ejeta’s presentation as the York Distinguished Lecturer at Auburn follows his appearance earlier this year as the York Distinguished Lecturer at the University of Florida.
(Written by Jamie Creamer.)