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Developing drought- and parasite-resistant sorghum hybrids are just some of the achievements of 2009 World Food Prize Laureate Gebisa Ejeta, a professor of agronomy at US-based Purdue University.
The Ethiopian scientist — announced as the 2009 Laureate on 11 June — was responsible for Africa’s first drought tolerant and high-yielding hybrid sorghum varieties, which improved crop productivity and birthed a commercial sorghum seed industry in Sudan.
Released in 1983, Ejeta’s hybrid — Hageen Dura-1 — was well-received by farmers, whose yields were increased by more than 150 per cent. By 1999, one million acres of Hageen Dura-1 had been harvested in Sudan.
As well as establishing infrastructure to monitor the production, processing, certification and marketing of hybrid seed, Ejeta set up programmes to educate farmers in various crop management practices such as the use of fertilisers and water conservation.
He also contributed to the control of the parasitic weed Striga, or witchweed, which plagues 40 per cent of farmable savannah across Africa. Ejeta and colleagues identified genes for Striga resistance and transferred them into local sorghum varieties.
Ejeta has also been an inspiring figure for a new generation of African agricultural scientists, battling poverty to earn a bachelor’s degree in plant science from his home country’s Alemaya College (now Haramaya University) in 1973 followed by a PhD from Purdue University in 1974.
He will receive a cash prize of US$250,000 in a ceremony to be held in Iowa, United States, in October this year.