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Ethiopian Scientist to Receive 2009 World Food Prize

Ethiopian scientistwas named on Thursday as the winner of the 2009 World Food Prize in an event at the U.S. State Department. Ejeta, a faculty member at Purdue University in the Midwestern U.S. state of Indiana, was honored for his work on drought and weed-resistant varieties of sorghum.

Ejeta is only the second African to win the Food Prize since its creation in 1986 by Nobel Peace Laureate Norman Borlaug, the American agronomist credited with starting a so-called "Green Revolution" with high-yield wheat varieties.

The Ethiopian geneticist and seed-breeder, who joined the Purdue University faculty in 1984, is being honored for his work in developing strains of sorghum that are resistant to drought and the parasitic weed Striga, which has been a plague to farmers throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Ejeta, who was not present at the State Department event, will receive the award on October 15 in a ceremony by the World Food Prize Foundation in Des Moines, Iowa.

The president of the foundation, former U.S. ambassador to Cambodia Kenneth Quinn, said Ejeta's work with sorghum has benefited millions of people in Africa and beyond.

"He developed and introduced the first sorghum hybrid in Africa in the early 1980s, which was drought tolerant and produced significantly higher yields," said Quinn. "In the 1990s, he conquered the greatest biological constraint to cereal production in Africa - the deadly weed Striga. Having discovered the bio-chemical basis of Striga's parasitic relationship with sorghum, our laureate's breeding program at Purdue produced many sorghum varieties resistant to drought and to Striga with yields 10 times greater than local varieties."

The World Food Prize chief was joined on the podium by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who stressed the Obama administration's commitment to attack world hunger, which affects an estimated one billion people.

She noted that in addition to developing new sorghum strains, Ejeta worked in India and Sudan on ways to get his improved seeds into the hands of farmers, underscoring the need for a comprehensive approach to repairing what Clinton called a broken global supply chain for food.

"The Obama administration is committed to providing leadership in developing a new global approach to hunger," she said. "For too long, our primary response has been to send emergency aid when the crisis is at its worst. This saves lives, but doesn't address hunger's root causes. It is at best a short-term fix. So we will support the creation of effective, sustainable farming systems in regions around the world where current methods are not working."

The World Food Prize, judged by a council of advisers that includes former U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, carries a $250,000 award. The previous African winner was plant breeder Monty Jones of Sierra Leone who, with Chinese colleague Yuan Longping, was honored in 2004 for work on high-yielding rice varieties.