Dr. Gebisa Ejeta, an Ethiopian plant scientist, is being honored today at the 2009 World Food Prize.
Dr. Ejeta’s work has focused on the development of sorghum varietals which are resistant to drought and to the parasitic Striga weed, which infects many of the cereal crops grown by smallholder farmers around the world. His work has positively impacted on the lives of hundreds of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa whose diets rely on sorghum as a staple crop.
The hybrid varietals which Dr. Ejeta pioneered have delivered yields 150 per cent higher than local sorghum and have helped tap the potential of dryland agriculture in Sudan and other areas of the continent. In Niger, for instance, his cultivar has produced 4 to 5 times the national sorghum average. By the end of the century, one million acres of Dr Ejeta’s sorghum had been harvested.
In addition, Dr. Ejeta’s work to combat the Striga weed has resulted in the introduction of new Striga-resistant sorghum varieties. Up to 40% of the arable savannah land in Africa is stricken with Striga, and it affects over 100 million people who rely on sorghum in their diets or for their livelihoods. These varietals produce as much as four times the yield and have been planted widely from Senegal and Mali down to Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique.
It seems fitting that Dr. Ejeta has won the World Food Prize in the same year that the World Food Prize will be celebrating the life of its founder, Dr. Norman Borlaug, who passed away earlier this year, aged 95. Borlaug’s early work breeding maize and rice varietals helped improve yields across the Americas and Asia. Up until his death, he was calling for a green revolution in Africa which focused on native staple crops, such as sorghum.