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Great Immigrants

Gebisa Ejeta
Geneticist, Plant Breeder, and Professor, Purdue University | World Food Prize Laureate
Born in:
Ethiopia

Gebisa Ejeta was born in the Ethiopian village of Wollonkomi in 1950. As a boy he would leave his family’s thatched hut every Sunday and walk 12 miles so that he could attend a school in a neighboring town during the week, returning home on Fridays. Ejeta went on to study at Jimma Agricultural and Technical School and Alemaya College, both established by Oklahoma State University with U.S. government funding. Ejeta came to the United States in 1974 to pursue his PhD in plant breeding and genetics at Purdue University in Indiana. His focus was sorghum, a staple crop used throughout sub-Saharan Africa to make flatbreads, porridges, and beverages. Through his research in Sudan for the nonprofit International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics and as a professor at Purdue, Ejeta made several breakthroughs. In the 1980s he developed the first high-yield hybrid sorghum varieties able to withstand drought in Africa. In the 1990s he developed new sorghum varieties resistant to the parasitic weed striga. Ejeta was awarded the 2009 World Food Prize, considered the Nobel Prize for food and agriculture, for research that “enhanced food security for hundreds of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa.” Ejeta has advised numerous international and U.S. government agencies, including the United States Agency for International Development. In 2011 President Obama appointed him to the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development. A distinguished professor of plant breeding and genetics and international agriculture at Purdue, Ejeta continues his sorghum research, as well as his work distributing sorghum seeds to hundreds of thousands of African farmers. As he told Reuters, “Sometimes I may appear to have a missionary zeal. I have been really single-minded about trying to do the best that I can to advance science-based development.”