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How to feed the world’s poor

BY SHANE ERSLAND | OCTOBER 14, 2009 7:30 AM

Rachel Jessen/The Daily Iowan
Purdue University Professor Gebisa Ejeta gives a presentation about world hunger in the University Capitol Centre on Oct. 13. The Ethiopian-native was announced winner of the World Food Prize in June and will receive the award on Thursday in Des Moines.
 

World Food Prize winners

• 2009: Gebisa Ejeta
• 2008: Robert Dole, George McGovern
• 2007: Phillip E. Nelson

Source: World Food Prize

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Gebisa Ejeta grew up a poor, hungry boy in west-central Ethiopia.

Now, years later, he has won a renowned award for confronting his boyhood nemesis.

Two days before he is scheduled to receive the World Food Prize in Des Moines, he stopped in Iowa City to educate roughly 50 members of the UI community about world hunger.

Ejeta, a professor of agronomy at Purdue University, was recognized for his work in combating Striga, a pink-flower weed that infests many crops in Africa. He will receive the $250,000 award on Thursday at the State Capitol. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the Ethiopia-native as the winner in June.

“I was excited to get an opportunity to go home after winning the award,” Ejeta said. “I went back to shoot some documentary footage for the [ceremony].”

During the lecture — sponsored by the UI Center for Human Rights — at the University Capitol Centre, he spoke about the need for more food production, research, and funding to help the more than 25,000 people worldwide who die each day from malnutrition.

He said the UI, along with other universities, can help the hunger problem in several ways:

Researchers and educators can uphold ideals of public service, officials can call for more research funding, and schools can link up with developing countries to educate them about food production.

“If you give a guy a fish, you feed him for a day,” Ejeta said, reciting a Chinese proverb. “But if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for life.”

Lauren Dana, a UI senior and Human Rights Center intern, said the UI’s location could be beneficial for countries with food shortages.

“We have a big advantage being in Iowa; it’s a big agricultural place,” she said. “The big focus in the state is on food for animals. We need a transition to focus more on food for people.”



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The Food Prize Laureate’s award-winning research led to varieties of sorghum, a cereal grain, that can stand up to drought and parasitic weeds, two of the most harmful environmental stresses on the grain. Sorghum is the major food source for nearly 500 million people in Africa, Ejeta said.

The Purdue professor noted the economics of Africa is one reason it’s hard for farmers in the continent to manufacture their own food supply.

“A lot of poor farmers have not opened up to manufacturing practices,” he said. “We need to work with national leaders to find a way for them to benefit from production. It has to be profitable, and marketing opportunities need to be considered.”

UI graduate student Linnea Welander, who attended the lecture, agreed a closer relationship between the US and developing countries would help the hunger problem.

“An objective would be to incorporate countries into what we are doing through research and development,” she said.

But whether more research will feed hungry countries depends on capitalization of the end results, Ejeta said.

“Far too many research results are sitting on the shelf,” he said.


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