Title: Jeanie Borlaug: On the wheat trail in Ethiopia 5 December 2012: Jeanie Borlaug, chairwoman of the BGRI, made her first trip to Africa in November. Under the aegis of the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research, she visited farmers in Hulko-Chekeso (14 Nov), participated in the Wheat Seed Systems Field Day (15 Nov) and the Wheat End-Use Quality & Gender Day (16 Nov) at the Kulumsa Station and had high tea with Dr. Solomon Assefa, the director-general of EIAR, at headquarters in Addis Ababa. These reflections are based on remarks she made during the workshops.
My first trip to Ethiopia was fantastic and I learned so much. The warm welcome I received from so many people made me feel at home.
Ethiopia reminds me of Mexico when I was growing up. The landscape is similar with the expanses of golden wheat and barley fields reaching to the mountains in the background. Like Mexico back in the 1950s and ’60s, there is so much agriculture and so much potential for future development. I know the Ethiopian government has a vision to become self-sufficient in wheat production in the coming years. It is important that all of us work hard on food security for the growing population to meet the challenges of climate change and sustainable food production.
One of our first activities was the opportunity to visit women farmers near Asela with Dr. Bedada and listen to their concerns. I was so impressed with their can-do attitudes and ability to run successful small farms.
Makida was one of those farmers. We invited her to participate in the BGRI program in China this past September. She had never been out of her village, let alone in an airplane, hotel or at a conference. In Beijing, she was on a panel with a farmer from China and one from India who told the audience of 400 top scientists about their experiences. Makida was especially outspoken.
I was able to visit her village along with my colleagues from the DRRW and EIAR. The entire village of Hulko-Chekeso turned out to meet us. Makida invited us into her home for a marvelous lunch. Many of the farmers there have adopted wheat varieties and other practices recommended by Dr. Bedada and the EIAR team. They have been willing to change their farming techniques and adopt resistant varieties. As a result, the farmers reported to us that the entire village has prospered. We must all work together to ensure that other villages do the same.
On Thursday, I was able to speak with some Ethiopian media about wheat and my father’s unfinished business in Africa during the Wheat Seed Systems Field Day Program. He would be so proud of the work EIAR is doing to strengthen the relationships among farmers, researchers, and seeds people.
On Friday, we participated in a Wheat End-use Quality & Gender Program. From listening to various presentations about developing new varieties of wheat — or any crop, for that matter —farmers’ preferences for quality traits be taken into account. Katie Nelson’s project about the preferences of women farmers and female members of the household was most interesting in that regard. If preferences are not considered, new varieties of rust resistant wheat will not be broadly adopted. That could significantly compromise food security, and be a waste of investment, time and effort. Women as well as men need to be included in the whole process of variety development — from testing to training, to quality inspection, to learning the new agronomic practices that are so important for success — and meetings scheduled at times suitable for the whole household.
The BGRI believes in training young scientists and helping them develop professional careers. During my trip, I was excited to see a lot of young Ethiopian scientists and seeds people. Their efforts would make my father proud. My Dad believed in equal opportunities for both women and men. My parents insisted that my brother and I receive a good education. And all of my father’s grandchildren (five girls and one boy) are well educated. My father used to say: “Education is something nobody can take away from you.” He also believed that about scientific training.
In closing, I want to thank the EIAR team for all your progress and for making the most of the investments that have been made in recent years in Kulumsa, Debre Zeit and Ambo by the DRRW. The whole EIAR team is very deserving of their recent award from the Prime Minister. You should feel very proud.
We are all partners in the effort to build a bridge to a food-secure world for men, women and children. My father would be so pleased with how hard everyone is working as his work with the Sasakawa Africa Association and the BGRI was very important to him. I know he would have liked to be in Ethiopia to see the progress that has been made since 2005 when he was last there.
Remember we are all “Hunger Fighters.” Keep up the good work.