15 September 2009

Founder of the Green Revolution - Norman Borlaug, Hunger Fighter

The death of Norman Borlaug at age 95 has brought renewed attention to his lifetime of accomplishments.

One biography of Borlaug, The Man Who Fed the World has a website with information about the man and his accomplishments as well as his no nonsense approach to his field of endeavor.

Born in 1914, raised on an Iowa farm, he studied plant pathology in the 1930s. By 1944 he was working for the Rockefeller Foundation in Mexico with a team to develop a strain of dwarf wheat to feed starving people.

Dr. Borlaug said the Mexican soils were depleted, the crops were ravaged by disease, yields were low and the farmers could not feed themselves.

He said to Mrs. Borlaug, "These places I've seen have clubbed my mind — they are so poor and depressing. I don’t know what we can do to help these people, but we've got to do something."

He invested years of work and privation with scant funds or equipment, using his training and farm experiences.

He told biographer Lennard Bickel, "When wheat is ripening properly, when the wind is blowing across the field, you can hear the beards of the wheat rubbing together. They sound like the pine needles in a forest. It is a sweet, whispering music that once you hear, you never forget."

Global famine with unbelievable numbers of deaths predicted in the 1960s, was prevented by Borlaug's team's dwarf wheat. The variety they hybridized is resistant to pests and diseases.

Texas A & M named their agricultural biotechnology center after him. He worked on a package of farming practices to forestall starvation in Africa that included seeds, agronomy, weed and insect control and installed test plots in 14 countries with food production problems.

In an interview with Reason, Borlaug said, that the food supply problem, as well as other development issues, in Africa is complicated by the lack of roads. He answered environmentalist's complaints by pointing out that it's easy to say don't develop poor people's prospects.

Borlaug said, "I should point out that I was originally trained as a forester. I worked for the U.S. Forest Service, and during one of my assignments I was reputed to be the most isolated member of the Forest Service, back in the middle fork of the Salmon River, the biggest primitive area in the southern 48 states. I like the back country, wildlife and all of that, but it's wrong to force poor people to live that way."

When being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize it was said,
More than any other single person of this age, he has helped provide bread for a hungry world. We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace."

The New York Times reported that the day the award was announced, 56 year old Dr. Borlaug was working in a wheat field outside Mexico City when his wife, Margaret, drove up to tell him the news. "Someone’s pulling your leg," he replied, according to one of his biographers, Leon Hesser. Assured that it was true, he kept on working, saying he would celebrate later.
MITs Technolog Review "Norman Borlaug, the world's greatest farmer, and a distinguished agronomist, died at the weekend, aged 95. His was a long and productive life of heroic proportions. The honours humanity heaped on "Norm" included the Nobel Peace Prize, Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom: a hat-trick shared only with Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Elie Wiesel."

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