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Ethiopia’s Prof. Sebsebe Demissew awarded prestigious Kew International Medal


  • His work on indigenous plants is ‘highly significant’ for people in the region
  • He will present a lecture on Ethiopia’s flora at Kew in 2017
  • The British Embassy in Addis hosts an event to celebrate 

Prof. Sebsebe Demissew, a leading Ethiopian botanical scientist, has been selected to be the recipient of this year’s prestigious Kew International Medal.  The Medal is an annual award given to individuals for distinguished, internationally-recognised work aligned with the mission of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (RBGK), to be the global resource for plant and fungal knowledge, building an understanding of the world’s plants and fungi upon which all our lives depend.  

A reception to celebrate this award takes place at the British Embassy in Addis Ababa on October 20thand he has also been invited to give a lecture in London at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in early 2017.

In selecting Prof. Demissew, RBG, Kew acknowledges his lifelong work on promoting Ethiopian biodiversity and the direct benefit this has daily for people in his country, and right across Africa. 

Professor Kathy Willis, Director of Science, RBG Kew said,

 “Professor Sebsebe is a highly influential and charismatic leader in the field of botanical science, exactly the type of person who we want to acknowledge with this award.  In recognising his vast contribution, we hope to shine a light on the importance of knowing what plants are in any given country but also what needs to be protected and conserved to protect people’s livelihoods too. Kew’s rich history of collaboration around the world and the dedication to biodiversity relies upon partnerships like this if we are to jointly address the mounting challenges facing our planet.”

Prof. Demissew’s career at Addis Ababa University, where he has been a Professor in the College of Natural Sciences since 1998 and the Dean of the College from 1996-2000, has been dominated by research documenting the plant resources and vegetation of Ethiopia and Eritrea and their use by indigenous communities. He led the Ethiopian Flora Project from 1996 to its successful completion in 2009 involving 91 scientists from 17 countries. He has published over 50 new plant taxa and a species named in his honour.

“It has been a privilege to be given an opportunity to be trained in Systematic botany in Uppsala, Sweden by the Ethiopian Flora Project and later to coordinate the same project for a period of 14 years until its completion in 2009 with the documentation of the indigenous and introduced plant resources of Ethiopia. The RBG Kew was instrumental in providing the base and technical support for the writing up of the Flora Project” said Professor Demissew on learning of his award.

Prof. Sebsebe is a long term collaborator with RBG, Kew, having worked with Kew scientists like Prof Paul Wilkin, Head, Natural Capital and Plant Health, RBG Kew, for over 30 years.  In recent times, this has included work with the team studying the native Arabica coffee plant, its climate resilience and mapping potentially more suitable landscapes for future coffee growing.

Kew scientists have also worked extensively with Prof. Demissew’s team at Addis Ababa University to document the woody plants of Ethiopia.  This has amassed a wealth of information on species and habitat ranges and assisted in identifying areas of high diversity and/or endemism in the country. The project has also involved training junior botanists from Kew and technicians from the University of Addis Ababa in plant and seed collecting techniques, family/genus identification in the field and preliminary vegetation assessments. The training continues whilst sorting and distributing the specimens in Addis.

ENDS/

For images and more information please contact the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Press Office on 020 8332 5607 or email pr@kew.org

Notes for editors

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding collections as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world.  Kew Gardens is a major international and a top London visitor attraction. Kew’s 132 hectares of landscaped gardens, and Kew’s country estate, Wakehurst, attract over 1.5 million visits every year.  Kew was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2009.  Wakehurst is home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. Kew receives approximately just under half of its funding from Government through the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Further funding needed to support Kew’s vital work comes from donorsmembership and commercial activity including ticket sales.

For more information on Kew’s conservation work in Ethiopia visit here

For more information on Prof. Paul Wilkin, visit here

For more information on Kew’s work mapping coffee growing areas in Ethiopia visit here

For more information on the work of Professor Demissew visit here

Criteria against which the selection of the Kew International medal award winner were applied;

  • Building an understanding of the world’s plants and fungi upon which all our lives depend;
  • Doing critical work to achieve global resilience;
  • Helping to solve some of the critical challenges facing humanity including (but not limited to): Biodiversity loss, climate change, food security, plant pathogens, fighting disease;
  • Increasing public awareness of the threat to plant and fungal diversity;
  • Using the power of science to provide knowledge, inspiration and understanding of why plants and fungi matter to everyone.

The Kew International Medal was first established in 1992 by the Board of Trustees and is given to individuals who have made a significant contribution to science and conservation.  Previous award winners include Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury (1994); Sir David Attenborough (1996); Stella Ross-Craig (1999); Margaret Stones (2000); Mary Grieson (2003); Peter H. Raven (2009); Jared Diamond (2012); E. O. Wilson (2014); Dr Kiat W. Tan (2015).