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It is with deep sorrow and immense respect that the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) mourns the passing of Dr. Melaku Worede, a towering figure in the field of conservation, genetics, and agriculture. Dr. Melaku, an Ethiopian geneticist and agronomist, who was widely regarded as the father of African farmers’ rights, has left an indelible mark on our world, and his legacy will continue to inspire generations to come.

Dr. Worede was born in Ethiopia in 1936 and obtained his Ph.D. in plant genetics and breeding from the University of Nebraska, USA. His outstanding achievements include founding the Plant Genetic Resources Centre in Addis Ababa, where he served as the Center’s director until 1993. He was instrumental in collecting and preserving Ethiopia’s genetic wealth, leading to the establishment of Africa’s first genebank in Ethiopia and the world’s premier genetic conservation systems

In a world faced with threats to biodiversity, Dr. Worede’s work stands as a testament to innovation and commitment. His pioneering efforts in farming-based native seed conservation, enhancement, and utilisation are now models for developing regions in Africa and Asia. Under his guidance, locally adapted native seeds, devoid of commercial fertilisers or chemicals, outperformed their high-input counterparts in yield, showcasing the tremendous potential of traditional farming wisdom.

Dr. Worede’s vision was not confined to the laboratories or gene banks; it extended to the fields and the farmers who were the true custodians of genetic diversity. His collaboration with farmers, agricultural extension agents and breeders created a symphony of understanding, mutual respect, and preservation of genetic heritage. In his own words, “A gene bank that is described as doing conservation, but which does not incorporate collaboration with farmers, is only doing preservation, not conservation. We believe in conservation through use, in keeping diversity alive as you use it, without compromising the diversity already built up over centuries by farmers. Conservation is about keeping diversity in a dynamic state”

In 1989, Dr. Worede was honored with the Right Livelihood Award – the “Alternative Nobel Prize,” a fitting recognition for a life devoted to preserving our planet’s genetic treasures. He also received the Outstanding International Contribution Award in 2008 from the National Green Award Foundation, headed by the Ethiopian president.

Beyond awards and accolades, Dr. Worede’s life and work symbolized a moral compass for our movement. He embodied the philosophy that genetic diversity is not just a scientific endeavor but a shared heritage, a common responsibility, and a crucial element for the future food security of the world.

Dr. Million Belay, General Coordinator of AFSA, said, “Dr. Melaku Worede is a beacon of wisdom and vision in the field of plant genetics. His pioneering work in recognizing on-farm diversity has not only reshaped global perceptions but has also emphasized the urgency to both conserve and enhance biodiversity. Always placing the farmer at the heart of his endeavors, Dr. Melaku stands out as a scientist of integrity, vision, and profound knowledge. His humility, coupled with his commitment to the essence of agriculture, has inspired generations after him. I, along with many others, admire him for his unwavering dedication to putting the farmer first and for his transformative contributions to our understanding of plant genetic resource conservation.”

As we pay homage to this great man, we want to express our deepest condolences to his family, friends, colleagues, and all the people whose lives were touched and inspired by his work. His unwavering dedication to science, conservation, farmers’ rights, and humanity at large is an example for us all, a path that we, at AFSA, are committed to continue.

We pledge to honor Dr. Worede’s legacy by working tirelessly to protect the rich biodiversity of Africa, by respecting and recognizing the invaluable role of farmers in conservation, and by fostering collaboration between scientists, governments, and communities. We are inspired by his words, “Africa and the Third World are not mere basket cases, but the world’s bread basket, harboring a vital cornerstone to global agricultural development through the conservation of genetic resources. The wisdom of farmers, who have built the world’s genetic resource base, is more than raw material; it’s an intellectual contribution that must not be ignored. We must recognize Farmers Rights and the Informal Innovation System as the profound expression of humanity’s collective agricultural heritage.”

The world has lost a giant, but his ideas, his vision, and his extraordinary work will continue to resonate. May his wisdom continue to guide us, and may his soul rest in eternal peace.

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