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‘Land Grants’ Could Lead Hunger Fight

Gebisa Ejeta says the world will have to increase its production of food more in the next four decades than it has since the dawn of civilization

Gebisa Ejeta says the world will have to increase its production of food more in the next four decades than it has since the dawn of civilization.

Accomplishing that task will require concerted efforts by governments, agribusiness and farmers, says Ejeta, the winner of this year’s World Food Prize. The glue holding those parts together may be a revitalization of the land-grant university system.

With the world’s population expected to grow from current estimates of 6 billion people to more than 9 billion by 2050, the world’s agricultural leaders must figure out a way to double food production during the same timeframe.

“We can do this by revitalizing our agricultural sciences and recommitting to the time-tested, mission-oriented legacies of our land-grant university models and ideas,” said Gebisa, a native of Ethiopia who grew up in a one-room thatched hut with a mud floor but went on to earn a doctorate in plant breeding and genetics at Purdue University.

Gebisa, who is currently a distinguished professor of agronomy at Purdue, will receive the $250,000 World Food Prize during ceremonies at the Iowa State Capitol Thursday (Oct. 15). The World Food Prize was founded by Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, the universally recognized father of the Green Revolution. Borlaug, a native of Cresco, Iowa, died Sept. 12. Ejeta, whose own work on the development of higher-yielding and weed-resistant sorghum varieties is believed to have helped feed hundreds of thousands of people in Africa, paid tribute to Borlaug during the annual Norman Borlaug Lecture at Iowa State University Monday night.

“The land-grant model legislated in 19th century helped build this great nation and made 20th century American agriculture the envy of the world,” said Ejeta “It has succeeded internationally, bringing about the Asian Green Revolution championed by Norm Borlaug and furthered by many others.”

Even in the face of emerging 21st century issues like climate change and the uncertainty of global energy supplies, Ejeta said, “the land grant model can be counted upon once again to address the challenges of doubling food and feed production.”

Over the last century, the U.S. agriculture sector has become one of the most productive in the world, and citizens of this country as well as the rest of North America and Western Europe have become accustomed to a safe and relatively inexpensive supply of food.

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