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Profiles In Badassery: Dr. Gebisa Ejeta

Purdue's Food Sciences Department has grown by leaps and bounds of late, receiving international recognition and renown. I touched on this a few weeks ago when Phillip E. Nelson earned a Profile In Badassery honor from this site. Thanks to reader Bill Santelik, a Purdue Ag alumnus, we had a great suggestion from this department for this week's profile. With that, I present Dr. Gebisa Ejeta, winner of the 2009 World Food Prize.


If you're a regular reader of this site, you know that I champion causes that help our fellow man. I believe that we in America are given much. It is, therefore our responsibility to give back. I am thankful for all you readers that contribute time, money, or services to those who are in need. I believe that is part of the true spirit of what it means to be a Boilermaker.

Dr. Ejeta is a true badass when it comes to that. Born in Ethiopia, he saw first hand the problem of world hunger. Currently, about 16% of the country lives on less than $1 per day. Even though Ethiopia has some of the largest water reserves in all of Africa, its irrigation systems are insufficient with only 1.5% of its water reserves used for crop irrigation. The soil is highly fertile, but not properly managed.

Dr. Ejeta completed his early education in his home country, earning his B.S. in Plant Science from Alemaya College in 1973. He then decided to attend Purdue, where he earned his Master's in 1976 and his Ph.D in Plant Breeding and Genetics two years later. He then returned to Africa to conduct further research. From his Purdue bio:

In March 1979, Gebisa joined the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and conducted seminal sorghum research in Sudan for five years. In January 1984, Dr. Ejeta returned to Purdue University as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Agronomy. Since then, he has led a comprehensive educational and research program at Purdue with emphasis on African agricultural research and development. He currently holds the position of Distinguished Professor of Plant Breeding & Genetics and International Agriculture at Purdue University.

Professor Ejeta is an advocate for purpose-driven research. His own research is focused on elucidating the genetic and physiological mechanisms of important traits in sorghum. Grain sorghum is the fifth most important cereal crop in the world. With its superior drought tolerance and broad adaptation, sorghum is grown worldwide, serving as a staff of life for over 500 million people in developing countries, and as the second most important feed crop in the United States. Ejeta's research addresses some of the most crucial traits of sorghum production and utilization including nutritional quality, drought tolerance, cold tolerance, resistance to pests, diseases, and the parasitic weed, Striga. Concerns of global biodiversity, gene flow, and the use of sorghum as a bio-fuel crop are also investigated.

The goal of Ejeta's sorghum research program is the development, release, and deployment of improved sorghum cultivars for both food and feed use. His sorghum research is generally characterized by its sustained commitment to translational approaches that generates products and technologies from research findings to impact farm productivity and the eventual utilization and profitability of the crop post-harvest. Dr. Ejeta utilizes a variety of research tools and works in interdisciplinary collaboration with a number of other scientists and programs. Professor Ejeta has released a large number of inbred lines, improved sorghum varieties and hybrids for use both in the United States and several countries in Africa. Several of his cultivars have been successfully deployed in a number of African countries.

Graduate education, mentoring of professionals, and developing partnerships are integral components of the sorghum research program. Professor Ejeta has trained and mentored a large cadre of domestic and international students and professionals at Purdue and in collaboration with other institutions. He has led many collaborative agricultural research and development projects, catalyzed the creation of public and private seed enterprises, and facilitated the formation of public-private partnerships in collaborating countries.

Professional Honors:

Dr. Ejeta is well respected in his field and as one of Purdue's top researchers. He has served as a member of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, as well as national and regional associations in Africa. He seems focused on giving back to his homeland and helping them battle the terrible problems of poverty, famine, and drought.

Much of his research has been conducted on the growth of sorghum, a major grain crop and the fifth most important cereal crop in the world. While he was working in the Sudan in the 1980's he discovered the world's world's first commercial hybrid variety of sorghum that is resistant to drought. This is critically important in African countries, where drought can be unexpected and catastrophic. Later he discovered the chemical basis of the relationship between the deadly parasitic weed striga and sorghum, and was able to produce sorghum varieties resistant to both drought and striga.

It was for this discovery that he won the World Food Prize. From Purdue's official release:

Gebisa Ejeta, Distinguished Professor of Agronomy at Purdue University, was awarded the World Food Prize for research leading to the increased production and availability of sorghum in his native Africa.

Ejeta, a plant breeder and geneticist, developed sorghum varieties resistant to drought and Striga, a parasitic weed. Sorghum is a major food crop for more than 500 million people on the African continent.

The World Food Prize is considered the Nobel Prize of agriculture. It is awarded each year by the World Food Prize Foundation to individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food worldwide. Norman E. Bourlaug, winner of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize, established the World Food Prize in 1986.

The award announcement was made at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and World Food Prize Foundation President Kenneth Quinn.

Ejeta joined Nelson as the second Purdue Professor to win the World Food Prize, and he now holds the title of Distinguished Professor of Agronomy as a result. This also won him a National Medal of Honor from his country.

Ejeta deserves this Profile in Badassery because he has done so much for the people of Africa. His advancement have allowed crops to yield four times as much sorghum as the non-drought resistant kind. This has allowed more people that have food on their plates, something that many people in this country (especially those in appalling eating competitions) take for granted. It hank him for putting Purdue in a good light by giving back so much.