The World Food Prize Foundation

Highlights of the 2009 World Food Prize Laureate announcement ceremony


Ethiopian scientist named 2009 Laureate


Ethiopian scientist named 2009 Laureate


Gebisa Ejeta of Purdue University developed drought- and weed-resitant sorghum,

enhancing food supply in sub-Saharan Africa

More on Gebisa Ejeta, including photos and videos HERE
 U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered the keynote remarks at the Laureate Announcement Ceremony.
 U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack paid tribute to Gebisa Ejeta at the announcement ceremony. Listen to USDA Radio report


Dr. Gebisa Ejeta of Ethiopia has been named winner of the $250,000 World Food Prize for  his monumental contributions in the production of sorghum, one of the world’s five principal cereal grains, which have dramatically enhanced the food supply of hundreds of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (remarks and video)was the featured speaker as Dr. Ejeta was announced as the 2009 Laureate at a ceremony at the U.S. State Department on June 11 that also featured Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, World Food Prize President Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn (read remarks as prepared), and World Food Prize Chairman John Ruan III, among others. 

Dr. Ejeta’s personal journey would lead him from a childhood in a one-room thatched hut in rural Ethiopia to the height of scientific acclaim as a distinguished professor, plant breeder, and geneticist at Purdue University. His work with sorghum, which is a staple in the diet of 500 million people living in sub-Saharan Africa, began in Ethiopia in the 1970s. Working in Sudan in the early 1980s, he developed Hageen Dura-1, the first ever commercial hybrid sorghum in Africa. This hybrid variety was tolerant to drought and out-yielded traditional varieties by up to 150 percent.

Dr. Ejeta next turned his attention to battling the scourge of Striga, a deadly parasitic weed which devastates farmers’ crops and severely limits food availability. Working with a colleague at Purdue University, he discovered the biochemical basis of Striga’s relationship with sorghum, and was able to produce many sorghum varieties resistant to both drought and Striga. In 1994, eight tons of Dr. Ejeta’s drought and Striga-resistant sorghum seeds were distributed to Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. Yield increases were as much as four times the yield of local varieties, even in severe drought areas.

“By ridding Africa of the greatest biological impediment to food production, Dr. Ejeta has put himself in the company of some of the greatest researchers and scientists recognized by this award over the past 23 years,” said Vilsack.  “The Obama Administration is inspired by the tireless efforts of Dr. Ejeta has demonstrated in the battle to eliminate food insecurity and is committed to employing a comprehensive approach to tackle the scourge of world hunger.”

Dr. Ejeta’s scientific breakthroughs in breeding drought-tolerant and Striga-resistant sorghum have been combined with his persistent efforts to foster economic development and the empowerment of subsistence farmers through the creation of agricultural enterprises in rural Africa. He has led his colleagues in working with national and local authorities and nongovernmental agencies so that smallholder farmers and rural entrepreneurs can catalyze efforts to improve crop productivity, strengthen nutritional security, increase the value of agricultural products, and boost the profitability of agricultural enterprise – thus fostering profound impacts on lives and livelihoods on broader scale across the African continent.

“Even while he was making breakthroughs in the lab, Dr. Ejeta took his work to the field,” said Clinton. “He knew that for his improved seeds to make a difference in people’s lives, farmers would have to use them – which meant they would need access to a seed market and the credit to buy supplies.”

 “Dr. Ejeta’s accomplishments in improving sorghum illustrate what can be achieved when cutting-edge technology and international cooperation in agriculture are used to uplift and empower the world’s most vulnerable people,” added Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, founder of the World Food Prize. “His life is as an inspiration for young scientists around the world.”

The 2009 World Food Prize will be formally presented to Dr. Ejeta at a ceremony at the Iowa State Capitol on October 15, 2009. The ceremony will be held as part of the World Food Prize’s 2009 Borlaug Dialogue, which focuses on “Food, Agriculture and National Security in a Globalized World.”


Gebisa Ejeta will receive the $250,000 World Food Prize on October 15 at the Iowa State Capitol


© 2022 The World Food Prize Foundation. All Rights Reserved.