In recent years, ensuring a sustainable source of food has come to rank among such priorities as nuclear non-proliferation, disease prevention, and cyber security as essential to maintaining global stability. According to the Lugar Center, “diplomatic efforts to maintain peace will be far more difficult wherever food shortages contribute to extremism and conflict.” Former United States Senator Richard G. Lugar, distinguished scholar and professor of practice at the Indiana University School of Global and International Studies, will join fellow stakeholders in the global food security arena for a panel discussion during the school’s third annual America’s Role in the World conference, being held at the school Wednesday, March 28 and Thursday, March 29.
A focus of Lugar’s legislative career and a chief objective at his Washington-based center, food security has been threatened in recent decades by a convergence of factors, including population growth, climate change, water scarcity, urbanization, land use pressures, spiking energy costs, and invasive species. At the same time, these environmental factors have been amplified by political ones: reductions in government investment in foreign agricultural development – including cutbacks in research and technology – and trade policy that often protects domestic farming at the expense of the interconnected global market for agricultural goods.
A Purdue University professor who recently received a $5-million, four-year grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for his work in plant research and development, Gebisa Ejeta will be among the scientists and policy makers joining Lugar on the global food security panel. A native of Ethiopia, the distinguished professor of plant breeding & genetics and international agriculture also serves as executive director of the Purdue Center for Global Food Security. Ejeta was awarded the 2009 World Food Prize for his transformative development of a crop capable of withstanding drought and resisting a parasitic weed to feed millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa. Ejeta is the 24th recipient of the award, considered the Nobel Prize of Agriculture.
The agricultural scientist grew up in a thatched hut in a rural Ethiopian village, where, of his own account, he “experienced hunger on a daily basis.” Ejeta attended a secondary agricultural school and college – both of which were established by Oklahoma State University and supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development – before going on to pursue the study of plant breeding and genetics at Purdue, completing his doctorate in 1978.
As a sorghum researcher at the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) office in Sudan in the 1980s and 1990s, Ejeta created hybrid varieties of sorghum, a staple of life for more than 500 million Africans. The grain of the sorghum plant is used for making bread and porridges and its stalk is a common material in the construction of huts and fences. Ejeta collaborated with USAID and a number of NGOs to distribute the seed in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Tanzania and nine other sub-Saharan countries. The new cultivars multiplied crop yields so effectively as to significantly reduce hunger, lift countless farmers out of poverty, and build toward a sustainable economy across the African continent.
In addition to the 2009 World Food Prize, Ejeta was recognized by Ethiopia’s president with the National Hero Award, the first scientist to be so honored. “I’m motivated by the … connections between the discoveries that I make in research,” Ejeta has said, “and the improvement of the well-being of people, especially in developing countries.”
At the conference, Ejeta and Lugar will join a panel also featuring U.S. Senator Todd Young – who as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee has brought attention to worldwide hunger and led efforts to facilitate humanitarian assistance – and Jon Eldon, visiting scholar at IU’s Ostrom Workshop. Eldon, who will be joining the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs in the fall, recently conducted research in Senegal and the Gambia to study farmer adaptation and agro-ecosystem management. Christine Barbour, senior lecturer in the IU Department of Political Science, cookbook author, and farm-to-table activist, will moderate the panel, to be held Thursday, March 29 from 10:30 to 11:45 am in the SGIS auditorium. Find the latest schedule, a list of speakers, and free registration here.