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World Food Prize Goes to Scientist From Ethiopia

Gebisa Ejeta developed sorghum seeds that resist drought and parasitic weeds. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Sorghum is an important grain for Africa. Millions of Africans have more to eat because of Gebisa Ejeta. The Ethiopian scientist developed sorghum seeds that can resist long dry periods. The seeds can also resist the Striga weed, a big cause of crop failures in Africa.

Now his work has earned him this year's World Food Prize from the World Food Prize Foundation in Des Moines, Iowa. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the announcement last week in Washington. She pointed out that Professor Ejeta did not just develop the seeds. He also worked to get them to farmers.

He will receive the two hundred fifty thousand dollar award at a ceremony in October. He is only the second African to win the prize since it was established in nineteen eighty-six. Monty Jones, a rice expert from Sierra Leone, was the winner in two thousand four.

Gebisa Ejeta is a professor at Purdue University in Indiana. Over the years, he has worked with farmers and seed companies and developed more than eighty seed types for Africa.

In the early nineteen eighties, Professor Ejeta developed the first sorghum hybrid seeds. These resisted drought and led to a major increase in production.

Drought is not the only enemy. Striga is a parasitic weed that Africans commonly call witchweed. The plant attacks sorghum and other crops and steals water and nutrients from the roots.

In the nineteen nineties, Gebisa Ejeta and another Purdue researcher, Larry Butler, identified the complex relationships between Striga and sorghum plants. That finding led to the development of seeds resistant to both Striga and drought.

Gebisa Ejeta was raised in a one-room hut in a rural village in west-central Ethiopia. His mother wanted him to get an education. He walked twenty kilometers to school in a neighboring town. He left home on Sunday nights and returned on Friday.

For secondary school, he attended an agricultural and technical school. It was established by Oklahoma State University under an American government program. From there he received an invitation to study at Purdue, where he earned a doctoral degree.

But Professor Ejeta has never forgotten his African roots. Today he encourages other scientists to turn their attention to Africa's needs.

And that’s the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson. Transcripts and MP3s of our reports are at I’m Doug Johnson.