Norman Borlaug was a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science, and is credited with saving billions of lives by preventing world famine. This great agricultural scientist remained little known outside of his field.
Thanks to the green revolution, world food production more than doubled between 1960 and 1990. In India and Pakistan, grain yields more than quadrupled. But Dr. Borlaug was more than just a scientist, he was a humanitarian as well. A 2006 book about Norman Borlaug is titled The Man Who Fed the World.
He began the work which led to his Nobel prize in Mexico at the end of World War II. He used innovative breeding techniques to develop disease-resistant varieties of wheat that produced much higher yields of grain. But he realized early on that there was more to it than just plant breeding. It involved time of planting and harvest, and water and fertilizer as well as economics and of course, politics.
During the 1950s and 1960s public health improvements set off a population boom in underdeveloped nations. Books like Paul Erlich’s The Population Bomb were warning that mass starvation was inevitable. “Human misery is explosive”, Dr. Borlaug said, “We’d better not forget that.” Increased grain yields in India and Pakistan helped to relieve a simmering explosion there as farmers turned to their fields and the new bounteous crops.
“More than any other single person of his age, he has helped to provide bread for a hungry world.” Nobel Peace Prize committee chairman Aase Lionaes said in presenting the award. “We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace.” Dr. Borlaug is one of the great heroes of the modern age, or any age. Few have accomplished so much.
Note: Dr. Borlaug died Saturday, September 12, in Dallas, TX. I wrote the post after midnight, and said only “today” in the post, so it was confusing. Apologies.