World Food Prize Laureate to Speak at 12th Annual Colorado State University Thornton-Massa Lecture on Sept. 11

Note to Reporters: Photos of Gebisa Ejeta are available with the news release at

A World Food Prize laureate who was raised in a thatched hut in Ethiopia and later used his training as a plant breeder and geneticist to abate hunger in Africa will deliver an invited talk about food security at Colorado State University.

Gebisa Ejeta, distinguished professor of agronomy and world-renowned sorghum researcher at Purdue University, will discuss "Global Food Security in the Face of Growing Challenges" during the 12th annual Thornton-Massa Lecture.

The event begins at 3 p.m. Sept. 11 in room 131 of the Behavioral Sciences Building on the CSU campus; it is free and open to the public. The lecture is sponsored by the CSU College of Agricultural Sciences and College of Natural Sciences.

“In my household, inasmuch as I had lots of love, because of a limited income, life was a struggle on a daily basis. So hunger is something I have personally experienced,” Ejeta said in a video interview produced by the World Food Prize.

Ejeta was honored in 2009 with the world’s most prestigious award for people who have made significant contributions to solving global hunger. The World Food Prize – known as the Nobel Prize for agriculture – recognizes international role models who inspire others to address food security.

The honor was bestowed for Ejeta’s work developing sorghum hybrids resistant to drought and to the parasitic Striga weed, called “witchweed” for the devastating effect it has on sorghum and other crops. Scientists consider Striga the greatest biological impediment to food production in Africa.

Ejeta’s work has dramatically increased production and availability of sorghum, one of the world’s five principal cereal grains, boosting the food supply for millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa. Beyond his scientific research, Ejeta works tirelessly with subsistence farmers to ensure that improved sorghum varieties successfully grow and enter the food supply.

He relates to poverty-stricken farmers because he has been there: Although raised in a one-room hut in an Ethiopian village, Ejeta excelled as a student and ultimately earned a doctorate in plant breeding and genetics at Purdue University, where he has remained as an honored agronomy professor. President Barack Obama recently appointed Ejeta to the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development.

Ejeta has motivated the scientific community, students, policy makers, anti-hunger advocates and African farmers, among many others, said Daniel Bush, chair of the CSU Department of Biology and lead organizer of the 2011 Thornton-Massa Lecture.

“People in his country revere him. They recognize him walking in the street and are overwhelmed in his presence,” said Thomas Holtzer, co-chair of the 2011 Thornton-Massa Lecture and a CSU department head who recently attended academic meetings with Ejeta in Ethiopia. “Dr. Ejeta is an inspiration because he can show us how to do something important with your life. With education, he has taken the fruits of science to make a difference.”

In addition to his public talk, Ejeta will lead a technical seminar for CSU faculty. This presentation, titled “Sorghum Genetics with a Human Face,” will begin at 3 p.m. Monday, Sept. 12, in Yates Hall, room 206.

To read more about Gebisa Ejeta and to watch a video about his life and work, visit

About the Thornton-Massa Lecture

The lecture honors the late Dr. Emil Massa of Denver and the late Bruce and Mildred Thornton, who shared a common interest in biodiversity, plant genetics, agriculture and horticulture.

These commonalities led their families to endow an annual public lecture through the CSU College of Agricultural Sciences and College of Natural Sciences.

Massa earned a medical degree in 1953 from Northwestern University and worked at Denver’s St. Joseph’s Hospital from 1960 to 1991. After retiring from orthopedic surgery, Massa spent his time feeding his love for plants at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

Bruce and Mildred Thornton shared a lifelong interest in and commitment to the study, identification and preservation of seeds. Mildred Thornton attended then-Colorado State College, and after receiving her master’s degree in botany, went to work as a junior botanist at the Federal Seed Laboratory in Washington, D.C. Bruce Thornton served on the Colorado State College faculty and the Agricultural Experiment Station staff from 1927-1962, and he headed the Colorado State Seed Laboratory from 1940-1961. They married in 1930, and when Bruce retired in 1961, Mildred took over the directorship of the State Seed Laboratory, where she had worked intermittently for 20 years.

Previous Thornton-Massa lecture speakers include: Pamela Ronald and Raoul Adamchak, University of California-Davis experts who explore the juncture of organic and genetically engineered food; Steve Baenziger, a leading researcher on small grains breeding from University of Nebraska; Rebecca Nelson, a leading researcher on improving disease resistance in crops; and Dennis Gonsalves, an expert on plant viral diseases.

For more information about the Thornton-Massa Lecture, visit