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Ethiopian Scientist Gebisa Ejeta Honored with US National Medal of Science
Celebrating an inspiring journey of plant genetics excellence and global food security advocacy.
Ethiopian-born scientist Dr. Gebisa Ejeta was recently honored with the National Medal of Science, the United States' most prestigious recognition for scientific contributions. U.S. President Joe Biden conferred this distinguished award on Ejeta in acknowledgment of his remarkable achievements in the field of plant genetics.
Ejeta, renowned worldwide as a leading plant geneticist, specializes in the study of sorghum, a vital food source in Africa. Notably, in 2009, he received the esteemed World Food Prize for his groundbreaking work in developing drought-resistant sorghum hybrids that combat the invasive weed Striga, a common menace to African farms.
Sorghum ranked as the fifth most important cereal crop globally after maize, wheat, rice, and barley, holds the second-most crucial position among cereals in Africa. It has become a staple food in many drought-prone African nations.
Gebisa Ejeta's journey from a humble upbringing in a thatched-roofed, single-roomed village home in central Ethiopia, not far from the capital Addis Ababa, to receiving the National Medal of Science is one marked by perseverance and a steadfast commitment to alleviating hunger and food scarcity, which significantly influenced his scientific pursuits. His childhood experiences of hunger, vividly described in interviews, fueled his lifelong dedication to improving food security.
Purdue University, where Mr. Ejeta serves as a professor and leads global food security programs, celebrated his well-deserved award, with University President Mung Chiang praising him as "a role model of perseverance" and "one of the most impactful geneticists in the world."
Gebisa Ejeta, a U.S. citizen, was one of nine distinguished American scientists honored at the White House by President Biden. The president lauded his contributions, stating, "By developing sorghum strains that withstand droughts and parasites, he has improved food security for millions. His advocacy for science, policy, and institutions as key to economic development has lifted the fortunes of farmers and strengthened the souls of nations."
The National Medal of Science, established in 1959, recognizes individuals for their exceptional contributions in various scientific fields. Mr. Ejeta's accomplishments were also acknowledged by the Ethiopian government, which awarded him the National Hero Award shortly after his World Food Prize win in 2009. In 2011, he was appointed to the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development by then-U.S. President Barack Obama.
Purdue University President Mung Chiang expressed his pride in the recognition, stating, "Gebisa Ejeta is one of the most impactful geneticists in the world, a remarkable leader at Purdue in food security research, and a role model of perseverance for all Boilermakers. Our university celebrates another prestigious and richly deserved honor."
The White House, in its announcement, emphasized Ejeta's outstanding contributions to the science of plant genetics, particularly his work in creating drought-resistant and parasite-resistant sorghum strains, which have significantly enhanced food security for millions of people.
Ejeta's impact goes beyond his research; he has also played pivotal roles in shaping national policy and international advisory boards, advocating for purpose-driven research and addressing critical traits in sorghum production. His work has contributed to improving the lives of over 500 million people in developing countries who rely on sorghum as a staple food source.
Gebisa Ejeta's dedication to translating research findings into real-world solutions has resulted in the development and deployment of improved sorghum varieties, benefiting both the United States and African nations. His work extends to various aspects of sorghum, from nutritional quality and pest resistance to its use as a biofuel crop.
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