Previous Fora / 2011

EJETA, Gebisa

2009 World Food Prize Laureate,

Science Envoy of President Barack Obama

Gebisa Ejeta was born and raised in a small rural community in west-central Ethiopia.  He completed his early education in his native country including a BS in Plant Sciences from Alemaya College in 1973.  He attended graduate school at Purdue University earning his Masters (1976) and PhD (1978) in Plant Breeding & Genetics.  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 has served on numerous science and program review panels, technical committees, and advisory boards of major research and development organizations including the international agricultural research centers (IARCs), the Rockefeller Foundation, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, and a number of national and regional organizations in Africa.  He was a member of the team that launched the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa, a joint effort of the Rockefeller and Gates Foundation.  Dr. Ejeta has served the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the largest publicly funded agricultural research consortium in the world as member of its Science Council (2008-2010) and currently as member of its Consortium Board.  He is also a board member of Sasakawa Africa Program.  Dr. Ejeta was recently designated special advisor to USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah.

Dr. Ejeta is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a Fellow of the Crop Science Society of America, and a Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy.  Among his many awards, Gebisa Ejeta was the recipient of the 2009 World Food Prize; and a national medal of honor from the President of Ethiopia.




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.




12:00-13:30 17 NOVEMBER


In the dawn of the 21st century, global food security has emerged as a grand challenge.  The population of the world has just reached seven billion, and expected to stabilize at over nine billion people by the year 2050.  With increasing global population, there will be a growing demand to produce more food, to increase efficiency in food production, to reduce post-harvest losses, and to devise better social, economic, and political strategies to make food accessible to more people.  We also increasingly recognize the fragility of our varying ecosystems, and the need to safeguard our natural resources.  The emerging challenges of higher energy demands, increasing greenhouse gas emissions with significant effect on surface temperature, and a looming global fresh water crisis, leaves us with an unprecedented sense of urgency.  Solutions lie in science, technology, and innovation supported with a more enlightened sense of governance, policy, and leadership. To prepare for serious and holistic mitigation and adaptation practices in our systems of food production and management of our natural resources, we must enhance the global scientific knowledge base and build strong and functional institutions.  We need to prepare nations to use modern agricultural practices and increase their awareness and resolve to the stewardship of our natural resources.

The good news is opportunities for making greater scientific advances are aplenty.  The centers of science and technology in North America, Western Europe, and other developed nations have expanded.  The landscape of science is also changing globally and new developments are emerging at a fast pace.  New scientific capacities are also emerging in many nations and at a variety of programs and institutions, including in the emerging economies and at the multinational private institutions.  In each of these nations and programs, advances have come from past investments laying the foundation for new discoveries, creating new scientific tools, and for new research methods to be generated with new investments.  As a result, partnerships and alliances have become even more important to leverage resources and knowledge for devising new methods and for generating powerful science, technology, and innovation to solve the more complex real-life problems that have emerged.

Shifts in weather patterns, threats of new pests and diseases, and imminent losses to biodiversity, all bring about complex interacting forces in nature making the challenge of food production and the management of natural resources very daunting.  Advances made to-date notwithstanding, new science, technology, and innovation will be needed to raise plants and animals under growing stress or produce more food on less land and with more judicious use of inputs.  Efficiency of sustainable productivity gains will decrease with higher levels of productivity targets unless new knowledge generates increasing opportunities.  The emergence of complex system of problems may demand the use of more integrative R&D approaches for their solution.

New tools and skill sets are needed to tackle these emerging complex problems of our food systems and the management of our natural resources. Investments in new technologies and integrative approaches to solving complex problems will need to be made now and well in advance of the entrenchment of the grand challenges in the nexus of climate, water, and energy, with food security and sustainability of our natural resources.