Melaku Worede
( 1989 , Ethiopia )

...for preserving Ethiopia's genetic wealth by building one of the finest seed conservation centres in the world.

Plant genetic resources are seldom 'raw materials'; they are the expression of the current wisdom of farmers who have played a highly significant role in the building up of the world's genetic resource base.


After studying Agronomy in the USA, Melaku Worede went back to his homeland, Ethiopia, where he started training local staff on seed conservation. The remarkable genetic diversity of Ethiopia is widely acknowledged, but it is also under great threat from drought and modern farming methods. Worede succeeded in creating the world’s premier genetic conservation systems, storing in only a few years, a considerable amount of Ethiopia’s genetic wealth.

Contact

Dr. Melaku Worede
PO Box 62857
Addis Ababa
ETHIOPIA

http://usc-canada.org/

Biography

Melaku Worede was born in Ethiopia in 1936. After obtaining a PhD in Agronomy (Genetics and Breeding) from the University of Nebraska, USA, he returned to Ethiopia and became involved in the planning of the Plant Genetic Resources Centre in Addis Ababa, of which he became Director in 1979. He held this post until his retirement in 1993 to join the Seeds of Survival Programme of Ethiopia, which he founded with the support of a consortium of Canadian NGOs led by the Unitarian Service Committee (USC/Canada).

Ethiopia is one of the world’s eight ‘Vavilov Centres’ noted for their great genetic diversity. It is this bio-diversity – now under great threat from drought and modern farming methods – that Worede has sought to preserve. Further, the Plant Genetic Resources Centre (PGRC) set out to establish ‘Strategic Seed Reserves’ of traditional varieties that could be released to farmers for planting in times of drought when no other seeds were likely to thrive. In only a few years Worede and his staff collected and safely stored a considerable amount of Ethiopia’s genetic wealth. In the process he established not only Africa’s finest facility of its kind but one of the world’s premier genetic conservation systems. Worede built this institution exclusively with Ethiopian staff, training a whole new generation of plant breeders and geneticists in his home country.

Worede retired from government service to cont …

Melaku Worede was born in Ethiopia in 1936. After obtaining a PhD in Agronomy (Genetics and Breeding) from the University of Nebraska, USA, he returned to Ethiopia and became involved in the planning of the Plant Genetic Resources Centre in Addis Ababa, of which he became Director in 1979. He held this post until his retirement in 1993 to join the Seeds of Survival Programme of Ethiopia, which he founded with the support of a consortium of Canadian NGOs led by the Unitarian Service Committee (USC/Canada).

Ethiopia is one of the world’s eight ‘Vavilov Centres’ noted for their great genetic diversity. It is this bio-diversity – now under great threat from drought and modern farming methods – that Worede has sought to preserve. Further, the Plant Genetic Resources Centre (PGRC) set out to establish ‘Strategic Seed Reserves’ of traditional varieties that could be released to farmers for planting in times of drought when no other seeds were likely to thrive. In only a few years Worede and his staff collected and safely stored a considerable amount of Ethiopia’s genetic wealth. In the process he established not only Africa’s finest facility of its kind but one of the world’s premier genetic conservation systems. Worede built this institution exclusively with Ethiopian staff, training a whole new generation of plant breeders and geneticists in his home country.

Worede retired from government service to continue and develop his pioneer work on a farming-based native seed (landrace) conservation, enhancement and utilisation. Growing without commercial fertilisers or other chemicals, the locally adapted native seeds developed in this way (e.g. durum wheat) have been shown to exceed their high-input counterparts on the average by 10-15% and the original farmers’ cultivars by 20-25% in yield.

In addition to Ethiopia, Worede is now promoting this to other developing regions of Africa and Asia as key promoter and scientific adviser of the Seeds of Survival programme. In this connection, he has been active in the training of several gene bank curators and many other young scientists. Several initiatives to support biodiversity conservation and utuilisation in Africa take the Ethiopian experience as their model and are thus attributable to Worede’s path-breaking work.

Also very active at the international level, Worede was the first Chair of the African Committee for Plant and Genetic Resources and has been instrumental in the setting up of the African Biodiversity Network. He has served as Chair of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Commission on Plant Genetic Resources and is currently a Board member of (among others) the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI) and the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI). In 2008 the National Green Award Foundation, headed by the Ethiopian president, gave Worede the Outstanding International Contribution Award.

 
 

FAQ about Melaku Worede

Questions asked in 2005

1. How do you explain to people the value of biodiversity?

Biodiversity is crucial to sustained productivity in agriculture. It has special significance to farmers in regions where adverse farming conditions such as drought, disease and pest prevail, or in marginal and heterogeneous environments.

2. What are the main threats to agricultural biodiversity today? 

The main threats to agricultural biodiversity include losses due to various stresses like drought, displacement of locally adapted seeds by narrow genetic base materials or monocultures, and the planting of monocrops or stand-alone crop species.

3. How has your work been replicated in other countries?

The work, which is a dynamic farmers based landrace conservation enhancement and utilisation, is now expanding into various regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and Asia in countries where work on sustainable agricultural development exists, implemented through USC-Canada’s Seeds of Survival Programmes.

4. Will farmers’ varieties feed the world? Why not modern varieties?

Farmers’ varieties (landraces) can be enhanced to outperform modern varieties by working with farmers in a participatory manner, by combining scientific know-how with traditional methods of breeding and practices. We can boost yield in landraces without losing the genetic base (i.e. the adaptive gene complex) inherent in such materials, which will also ensure sustained productivity that the high external input modern varieties do not provide.

5. Shouldn’t developing countries quickly adopt genetic engineering to solve the food crisis in places like Africa?

We should first explore the potential that the existing plant genetic diversity provides in this respect i.e. the natural gene reserve which is still abundant – before we lose it completely.

6. What effect has the RLA had on your work?

It has benefited my work through improved recognition and acknowledgement of the merit of my efforts in combining science with farmers’ practices and my approach to crop genetic resource conservation through use.

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