Ethiopian-born scientist Gebisa Ejeta has been honored with the National Medal of Science, the most esteemed accolade for scientists in the United States.
US President Joe Biden granted Mr. Ejeta the award in acknowledgment of his “remarkable contributions to the field of plant genetics.”
Gebisa Ejeta is widely recognized as one of the world’s preeminent plant geneticists, focusing primarily on the study of sorghum, a prominent food source in Africa.
In 2009, Mr. Ejeta was awarded the esteemed World Food Prize for his work in developing a drought-resistant sorghum hybrid that is also impervious to the parasitic weed Striga, a pervasive problem in African agriculture.
Sorghum ranks fifth among the world’s most important cereal crops, following maize, wheat, rice, and barley, and is the second-most vital cereal in Africa, particularly in regions susceptible to drought.
Gebisa Ejeta’s early years were characterized by hardship and food scarcity, growing up in a single-room thatched house in a village near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Despite limited access to education, he embarked on a journey of knowledge, traveling 20 kilometers to attend school in a nearby town, returning home only on weekends.
His childhood experiences, marked by hunger and food insecurity, have significantly shaped his scientific endeavors, propelling him to work towards improving global food security. In his interviews, he has recounted his struggle with hunger during his school days, remarking on the numerous mornings he left for school on an empty stomach.
He emphasized the challenges of attending school while hungry, saying, “Going to school in the morning with an empty stomach is a challenge. So I have experienced hunger on a regular basis.”
Purdue University, where Mr. Ejeta serves as a professor and leads global food security initiatives, celebrated this award, recognizing him as “a symbol of determination” and “one of the most influential geneticists globally.”
In addition to Mr. Ejeta, President Biden presented this prestigious award to nine prominent US scientists at the White House. During the award ceremony, the President lauded Mr. Ejeta for his development of drought- and parasite-resistant sorghum strains, which have significantly enhanced food security for millions and commended his advocacy for science, policy, and institutions in promoting economic development and improving the lives of farmers.
The National Medal of Science has been bestowed by US presidents since 1959 upon individuals who have made remarkable contributions to various scientific fields.
Mr. Ejeta’s exceptional contributions to science also earned him the National Hero Award from the Ethiopian government shortly after winning the World Food Prize in 2009, the highest national distinction granted to Ethiopian citizens.
Furthermore, in 2011, he was appointed to the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development by former US President Barack Obama, recognizing his significant contributions to global agriculture and food security.