In honour of Black History Month we will be recognising notable contributions to the STEMs from people of African/Jamaican origin. Today we recognise Dr. Gebisa Ejeta.
Born (1950) in Ethiopia Dr. Ejeta is a plant breeder and geneticist best known for his major contributions to revolutionise sorghum production. Growing up in a a one-room thatched hut with a mud floor, Dr. Ejeta initially wanted to pursue an engineering career but his mother convinced him to follow agriculture. He therefore attended a local Agricultural and Technical School, which had been established by Oklahoma State University (OSU). He later completed his BS in Plant Sciences at Alemaya College (Ethiopia) before earning his Masters (1976) and PhD (1978) in Plant Breeding & Genetics from Purdue University (USA). Since then, he has worked as a sorghum researcher at the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) office in Sudan, faculty member at Purdue University and Executive Director of the Purdue Center for Global Food Security. He is currently a Distinguished Professor of Plant Breeding & Genetics and International Agriculture at Purdue University and has overseen the training of a large cadre of domestic and international students and professionals.
Dr. Ejeta’s greatest accomplishment involved developing Africa’s first commercial hybrid sorghum variety which is resistant to both drought and striga (a deadly parasitic weed) and by so doing significantly increasing sorghum production in Sudan and other African countries. He has released over 70 parental lines of sorghum for the U.S. seed industry, boosting productivity of the 5th most important cereal crop in the world. His efforts saw him appointed to the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development by President Obama and serve on numerous panels, technical committees and advisory boards of major research and development organizations including the Rockefeller Foundation and the UN. His research has contributed to over 200 publications with emphasis on African agricultural research and development.
Dr. Ejeta is an advocate for purpose-driven research and he won the 2009 World Food Prize with a prize money of $250,000 which he used to establish an educational foundation aimed at assisting Ethiopian and other African children. He continues to speak passionately on the need to attain global food security by accelerating science-based development and capacity building in poor nations. Dr. Ejeta received the national medal of honor from the President of Ethiopia and was recently designated special advisor to the USAID Administrator.