Norman Ernest Borlaug (1914-2009) was an American agricultural scientist and Nobel Peace Prize winner. He is the main founder of the Green Revolution, which taught the world to feed itself thereby saving hundreds of millions of lives. His breeding of high-yielding crop varieties helped to avert mass famines that were widely predicted in the 1960s, altering the course of history. Largely because of his work, countries that had been food deficient, like Mexico and India, became self-sufficient in producing cereal grains. The Green Revolution eventually came under attack from environmental and social critics who said it had created more difficulties than it had solved. Dr. Borlaug responded that the real problem was not his agricultural techniques, but the runaway population growth that had made them necessary.
Born in northeast Iowa to a Norwegian-American farm family, he received a PhD in plant pathology and genetics from the University of Minnesota in 1942. Borlaug was a student of the legendary expert in plant diseases, Elvin C. Stakman. He joined the Rockefeller Foundation’s Mexican hunger project in 1944, and spent most of his career working in Third World countries to develop better seeds.
Wheat and rice
Borlaug developed dwarf high-yield varieties of wheat. The initial goal was to create varieties of wheat adapted to Mexico’s climate that could resist the greatest disease of wheat, a fungus called rust. He accomplished that within a few years by crossing Mexican wheats with rust-resistant varieties from elsewhere. Thanks to his efforts, Mexico became an exporter of wheat in 1963.
His new "semidwarf" plants would produce enormous heads of grain, yet their stiff, short bodies could support the weight without falling over. On the same amount of land, wheat output could be tripled or quadrupled.
Later, the idea was applied to rice, the staple crop for nearly half the world’s population, with yields jumping several-fold compared with some traditional varieties.
During a time of famine in Ethiopia, Borlaug moved to Africa and worked to increase food production in African countries. Between 1983 and 1985, maize production doubled, and wheat and other crop yields increased dramatically as well.
- Nobel Peace Prize, 1970
- Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1977
- National Medal of Science, 2004
- Congressional Gold Medal, 2006
|“||I now say that the world has the technology – either available or well advanced in the research pipeline – to feed on a sustainable basis a population of 10 billion people. The more pertinent question today is whether farmers and ranchers will be permitted to use this new technology? While the affluent nations can certainly afford to adopt ultra low-risk positions, and pay more for food produced by the so-called “organic” methods, the one billion chronically undernourished people of the low income, food-deficit nations cannot.||”|
- 30th Anniversary Lecture, The Norwegian Nobel Institute, Oslo, September 8, 2000