Gebisa Ejeta, an Ethiopian scientist, has been awarded the National Medal of Science, which is the highest honour bestowed upon scientists in the United States.
President Joe Biden awarded Mr. Ejeta the medal in recognition of his exceptional contributions to the field of plant genetics.
Mr. Ejeta is widely recognised as one of the foremost plant geneticists in the world.
He specialises in studying sorghum, which is a widely consumed food source in Africa.
“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 honour, bestowed by the President of the United States,” said Purdue University President Mung Chiang in reaction to the news.
In 2009, Mr. Ejeta was awarded the esteemed World Food Prize for his groundbreaking work in developing a sorghum hybrid that exhibits resistance to both drought and the parasitic weed Striga. This weed is known for its widespread invasion of farms in Africa.
Sorghum holds the fifth position among the most significant cereal crops worldwide, following maize, wheat, rice, and barley.
Additionally, it holds the second-most significant position among cereals in Africa and has been widely adopted as a staple food by various countries on the continent, especially those that are susceptible to drought.
Mr. Ejeta grew up in a small thatched home in a village located in central Ethiopia, which was in close proximity to the capital city, Addis Ababa.
However, his access to school was limited, requiring him to travel a distance of 20km (12 miles) to a nearby town in order to attend lessons. He would only return home on weekends.
His childhood, which was characterized by ongoing hunger and food scarcity, has had a significant impact on his scientific research over the years. This has fueled his unwavering determination to enhance food security.
In one of his interviews with the BBC, he mentioned that he had experienced hunger during his childhood.
“When I went to school away from home, invariably I was hungry. In fact, recalling grade school, I can count the number of days where I had breakfast,” he told the BBC
He mentioned that it is challenging to go to school in the morning on an empty stomach. I frequently experience hunger.
The president of Purdue University in Indiana, where Mr. Ejeta serves as a professor and leads global food security programmes, expressed his joy and admiration for Mr. Ejeta’s achievement. He praised Mr Ejeta as a role model of perseverance and recognised him as one of the most influential geneticists globally.
“Our university is celebrating another prestigious and well-deserved honour,” stated Mung Chiang, the president of Purdue University.
Mr. Ejeta, an American citizen, was one of nine distinguished US scientists who were honoured at the White House by President Biden on Tuesday.
President Biden emphasised the importance of the development of sorghum strains that are resistant to parasites and droughts, which has improved food security for millions of people, at the award ceremony.
He added that his advocacy for science, policy, and institutions as crucial elements for economic development has not only improved the livelihoods of farmers but also enhanced the overall well-being of nations.
Since 1959, US presidents have been awarding the National Medal of Science to individuals who have made exceptional contributions in various science-related fields and are deserving of special recognition.
After winning the World Food Prize in 2009, Mr. Ejeta was also honoured with the National Hero Award by the Ethiopian government. This prestigious award is the highest recognition given to Ethiopian citizens.
In 2011, then-US President Barack Obama appointed him to the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development.