* Tributes to Dr. Norman E. Borlaug from Around the World
* A Look At the Remarkable Life of Borlaug
* Borlaug on Penn & Teller, West Wing and You Tube
* Greatest Human Being, R.I.P.
* Norman Borlaug, Savior of Countless Millions
* Norman Borlaug and the next Green Revolution
* Norman Borlaug's Fight to Feed the World
* Against the Grain on Norman Borlaug
* In Prose or In Rap, Hard to Top Borlaug's Achievements
* The Man Who Fed the World
* A Shining Example of What Science Can Do
* Norman Borlaug, India's 'Annadaata' - Donor of Meal
* A Humanist First
* We Should Know His Name
* Norman Borlaug: Agronomist and 'grandfather of the Green Revolution'
* Remembering Norman Borlaug
* The American Who Helped India Conquer Hunger
* Borlaug's Legacy Will Affirm Necessity of Feeding the World's Hungry
* PBS Interview with Toennniessen: 'Green Revolution' Founder Borlaug Dies at 95
* Dr. Norman Borlaug, R.I.P. - Remembering the Man Who Fed the World
* Effort Underway to Honor Norman Borlaug in U.S. Capitol with a Statue
* What Others are Saying: Honoring Dr. Norman Borlaug
Tributes to Dr. Norman E. Borlaug from Around the World
UPDATED September 14, 2009 - - Following the death of World Food Prize Founder Norman Borlaug, various tributes to his impact and lasting legacy have been coming in from all parts of the globe. In honor of Dr. Borlaug, and those whom he has inspired, the World Food Prize is pleaed to share the following statements that have paid tribute to Dr. Borlaug both following his passing and throughout his long career.
"Almost 40 years after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, you are still pushing and my hat is off to ... you. - President Barack Obama (June 30, 2008)
"With the passing away of Dr. Norman Borlaug, an era has ended, in which he spearheaded a scientific revolution in agriculture. At a time in the sixties when the country was facing the spectre of severe food shortages, the introduction of Dr. Borlaug's high yielding varieties of seeds set in motion a technological revolution in Indian agriculture that led eventually to the country achieving self-sufficiency in food grains. The Green Revolution lifted the spirits of the Indian people and gave them new hope and confidence in their ability to tackle the country's daunting economic challenges--. Dr. Norman Borlaug's life and achievements are testimony to the far reaching contribution that one man's towering intellect, persistence and scientific vision can make to human peace and progress. One of Dr. Borlaug's favourite quotations was to 'reach for the stars'. In doing so, Dr. Borlaug helped millions of people escape from a life of hunger and deprivation. On behalf of a grateful nation, I convey my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Dr. Norman Borlaug." - Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
"Dr. Borlaug's life story is an inspiration for all. He was born on an Iowa farm and he never forgot his roots. Dr. Borlaug is an American hero and a world icon." - Former United States President George H.W. Bush
"The passion that drives Dr. Borlaug's life is an inspiration for all of us to follow. Since 1986, we've worked together through Global 2000 of The Carter Center and the Sasakawa Africa Association to help small-scale farmers to improve agricultural productivity and crop quality, sometimes two or even threefold. It has been an honor to collaborate with Dr. Borlaug. He is a true humanitarian and a dear friend." - Former United States President Jimmy Carter
"In the death of Norman Borlaug, the world today has lost not only an eminent agriculture scientist but a man dedicated to the cause of humanity." - Indian Minister of Agriculture Sharad Pawar
"Dr. Norman Borlaug was simply one of the world's best. A determined, dedicated, but humble man who believed we had the collective duty and knowledge to eradicate hunger worldwide. His efforts saved millions of lives and inspired thousands to dedicate their lives to doing the same. The World Food Prize, which he founded, will continue to acknowledge those who carry on the work of providing food to feed the world. Dr. Borlaug will be missed." - United State Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack
"More than any other person of this age, he has helped to provide bread for a hungry world." - Chair of the Nobel Committee, Mrs. Aase Lionaes (Nobel Peace Prize presentation, 1970)
"Norman E. Borlaug saved more lives than any man in human history. His total devotion to ending famine and hunger revolutionized food security for millions of people and for many nations. His heart was as big as his brilliant mind, but it was his passion and compassion that moved the world. We thank him for being our great champion in the battle against hunger." - World Food Programme Executive Director Josette Sheeran
Nobel laureate, Norman Borlaug, dedicated his life to finding ways to end hunger and help feed the world. His amazing research, powerful mind and passion for human life sparked a 'green revolution' that has made a tremendous contribution to helping end starvation. It was a personal privilege to know this wonderful man whose legacy will continue to save lives and inspire future generations. - UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman
"No single person has contributed more to relieving world hunger than our friend, the late Norman Borlaug. Norman was truly the man who fed the world, saving up to a billion people from hunger and starvation." - Bread for the World President David Beckmann
"Dr. Norman Borlaug, universally acknowledged as the "father of Green Revolution" is a hero to me and very many others. I personally admire his single-minded devotion to science and agricultural development and his unending empathy and service for the poor. He has been a great example for scientific leadership and a life so well lived. As I reflect on his accomplishments and leadership, however, in my view the genius of Norm Borlaug was not in his creation of high yield potential and input responsive dwarf wheat varieties, not even in his early grasp of the catalytic effect of technology, but to a great extent in his relentless push to mobilize policy support to encourage the development of the agro-industry complex, to sustain the synergistic effects of technology, education, and markets." - 2009 World Food Prize Laureate Gebisa Ejeta
"Dr. Borlaug's scientific leadership not only saved people from starvation, but the high-yield seeds he bred saved millions of square miles of wildlife from being plowed down. He is one of the great men of our age." - 2008 World Food Prize Laureate George McGovern
"No one can deny the tremendous humanitarian and scientific contributions Dr. Borlaug and his colleagues have made to the world. Borlaug's research techniques have done much to avert the threat of hunger and starvation."
- 2008 World Food Prize Larueate Robert Dole
"All of us who are left on this crowded planet, and generations yet to come, have reason to be grateful to Norman Borlaug. By his own work, and by the inspiration he gave to so many others, he improved the lives of everyone. Agriculturalists will forever be aware that we could and should achieve so much more and that our determination to do what needs to be done must not be overcome by fear of controversy. Norman Borlaug in his Nobel acceptance speech taught us that honours should be accepted with humility and in the understanding that they carry with them even greater responsibility to lead by example. Those of us who were privileged to meet him in his later years can testify that he never wavered from meeting that responsibility and to the effectiveness of his unfaltering advocacy for the causes he believed in." - 2004 World Food Prize Laureate Monty Jones
"Wheat varieties were brought to India and other developing countries by Borlaug and M.S. Swaminathan, when India was a ship-to-mouth country; imported food went direct to the ration shops. Such high yielding and disease resistant wheat varieties saved several millions of lives, not only in India but many other wheat-growing countries. The country owes Borlaug a deep debt of gratitude." -1998 World Food Prize Laureate B.R. Barwale
"Norman Borlaug is the living embodiment of the human quest for a hunger free world. His life is his message."
- 1987 World Food Prize Laureate Dr. M.S. Swaminathan
"Thanks to Dr. Borlaug's pioneering work in the 1960s to develop varieties of high-yielding wheat, countless millions of men, women and children, who will never know his name, will never go to bed hungry. Dr. Borlaug's scientific breakthroughs have eased needless suffering and saved countless lives. Dr. Borlaug has been an inspiration to new generations across the globe who have taken up the fight against hunger." - Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell
"As we celebrate Dr. Borlaug's long and remarkable life, we also celebrate the long and productive lives that his achievements have made possible for so many millions of people around the world. And as the United Nations continues its efforts to reach the ambitious but achievable Millennium Development Goal of reducing, by half, by the year 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger, we will continue to be inspired by his enduring devotion to the poor, needy and vulnerable of our world." - Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan
"[Dr. Borlaug] is a living legend at Texas A&M, just as he is all around the globe. When you talk about service to mankind and people who truly make a difference in the world, you are talking about Norman Borlaug." - U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
"Whether a scientist, a professor or agribusiness owner, we all have an inspirational example to follow in Dr. Borlaug." - Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns
"Dr. Borlaug is a legend in India. His contribution has been on a scale which is very difficult to imagine. It has literally affected hundreds of millions of people and changed their lives." - Ambassador of India Ranendra Sen
"I am honored to have known Norm Borlaug. He was a remarkable man and a true son of the Iowa soil. A tenacity found through wrestling, a love of the soil and a twist of fate helped Norm develop the scientific breakthroughs to ease malnutrition and famine around the world. Norm Borlaug never forgot his roots, right here in the cornfields of Iowa, and Iowans will never forget him. He will continue to inspire generations of scientists and farmers to innovate and lift those mired in poverty. Barbara and I send our deepest condolences to Norm's family." - U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley
"Because of his vision and tireless work, upwards of one billion lives have been saved. Not bad for a farm boy from Cresco, Iowa." - U.S. Senator Tom Harkin
"Dr. Norman Borlaug is an American superhero that few people have heard of." - U.S. Congressman Tom Latham
"Norman Borlaug is one of the greatest humanitarians who ever lived. He is not only a scientist, but a doer and an activist who believes in the power of science to better the lives of people everywhere - especially in the developing world." - President of AgBioWorld Foundation C.S. Prakash
A Look At the Remarkable Life of Borlaug
Celebrating the life of Dr. Norman Borlaug
People from all over the world are posting their comments on the great man. Read about it and please feel free to put your comments too.
Watch Penn and Teller on Borlaug http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIvNopv9Pa8
Watch Borlaug on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_q6SJh0ZvM&feature=player_embedded
Watch Borlaug in the TV Series 'West Wing': http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7qcTVWm_oU&feature=player_embedded
Greatest Human Being, R.I.P.
- John Tierney , NY Times Blog, September 15, 2009
Embedded links at http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/15/greatest-human-being-rip/
Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, was celebrated for performing "miracles" by President Bartlet and an African leader in "The West Wing" (see thevideo clip below). He was described as history's "greatest human being" by Penn and Teller (in their program featuring Dr. Borlaug and some of his opponents, like Greenpeace). Since his death on Saturday night at the age of 95, tributes from world leaders have been flowing.
I wrote about Dr. Borlaug, who was crediting with saving hundreds of millions of lives, in a post last year about environmentalists' role in exacerbating food shortages (and pressuring the Rockefeller and Ford foundations to reduce support for Dr. Borlaug's agricultural research). In a lecture given on the 30th anniversary of his Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Borlaug told an audience in Oslo in 2000:
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.
It took some 10,000 years to expand food production to the current level of about 5 billion tons per year. By 2025, we will have to nearly double current production again. This cannot be done unless farmers across the world have access to current high-yielding crop-production methods as well as new biotechnological breakthroughs that can increase the yields, dependability, and nutritional quality of our basic food crops.
Dr. Borlaug wrote an introduction to "The Frankenfood Myth," a 2004 book by Greg Conko, who has posted a tribute to Dr. Borlaug at the OpenMarket blog of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Mr. Conko reviews Dr. Borlaug's achievements and concludes, "Never was so much owed by so many to a single man."
There's also a tribute to Dr. Borlaug from Elizabeth Whelan, president of the American Council on Science and Health, an organization for which Dr. Borlaug served as a founding director.
At Reason's Hit & Run blog, Ronald Bailey has written about a rap song honoring Dr. Borlaug and also posted a tribute contrasting Paul Ehrlich's 1968 predictions of mass starvation ("The battle to feed all of humanity is over") with the progress that Dr. Borlaug helped achieve:
In Pakistan, wheat yields rose from 4.6 million tons in 1965 to 8.4 million in 1970. In India, they rose from 12.3 million tons to 20 million. And the yields continue to increase. Last year, India harvested a record 73.5 million tons of wheat, up 11.5 percent from 1998. Since Ehrlich's dire predictions in 1968, India's population has more than doubled, its wheat production has more than tripled, and its economy has grown nine-fold. Soon after Borlaug's success with wheat, his colleagues at the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research developed high-yield rice varieties that quickly spread the Green Revolution through most of Asia.
I welcome your thoughts on Dr. Borlaug's achievements, his legacy and the continuing conflicts between agricultural researchers and environmentalists. You can watch a recent interview with him in this brief biography from the Voice of America:
And here's the tribute on "West Wing":
Embedded links at http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/15/greatest-human-being-rip/
Norman Borlaug, Savior of Countless Millions
- Editorial, Dallas Morning News, September 14, 2009
There are men who see human suffering and say, "That's the way of the world." There are also men who see human suffering, say, "The world doesn't have to be this way," but do nothing. Then there are the much rarer men who work to improve the world. Sometimes, with luck, they show a profit.
But every once in a great while, there are men like Norman Borlaug, who died over the weekend in Dallas at age 95. What he achieved changed human history and made him an unsung hero of the 20th century.
Raised on an Iowa farm, Borlaug grew up fascinated by wheat and wanting to study it. Seeing hunger and starvation as a college student during the Great Depression pained his conscience and altered the course of his life. Trained as a plant pathologist, he devoted his career to fighting world hunger. He devised miracle strains of wheat that allowed starving nations to feed themselves.
When the Nobel Prize committee awarded him its Peace Prize in 1970, it said of Borlaug, "More than any other single person of this age, he has helped provide bread for a hungry world."
Because Borlaug lived, so did countless millions who would have died in agony. In a way, the father of the Green Revolution has as many descendants today as there are stars in the sky.
The Texas A&M professor conceded in later years that his methods gave rise to new environmental challenges but pointed out that those complaining had full bellies. For scientists now working to solve these problems, Borlaug provided perhaps the pre-eminent example of science in service to humanity.
That this old world can still, for all its travails, produce a man like Norman Ernest Borlaug proves that hope is never in vain.
Norman Borlaug and the next Green Revolution
- Mark Henderson, Times Online (UK), September 14, 2009 http://timesonline.typepad.com/
Norman Borlaug, who died on Saturday, can justifiably be regarded as one of the greatest figures of the 20th century. His agricultural innovations, such as the development of higher-yielding dwarf wheat, led directly to the Green Revolution, and they have been widely credited with saving a billion lives that might otherwise have been lost to starvation. The Times carries his obituary today.
His passing, though, is a good moment to look at the agricultural challenges that lie ahead of us, as we prepare to feed a world that is forecast to reach 9 billion by 2040. The need for higher-yielding crops is today just as acute as it was in the post-war years when Borlaug made his advances, as the scientist himself was always keen to point out.
A few quotes from Borlaug highlighted by John Hawks set out the challenge particularly clearly. Borlaug was well aware that if we are to protect our planet's biodiversity, while also feeding its increasing number of human residents, it will be impossible to bring more land under cultivation. We need every tool available to us to make the land that is already farmed more productive -- including, as Borlaug put it, "proper use of genetic engineering and biotechnology".
He was right. GM crops will not, on their own, feed the world. But we would be exceptionally foolish to deny ourselves their contribution to that goal -- even if they will, in places, have a negative impact on biodiversity. They will often be the least worst way of balancing the competing demands of people and the environment.
I'm reminded here of a talk I heard Lord May of Oxford, the former President of the Royal Society and Government chief scientist, give a few years ago, which greatly influenced my thinking about GM crops.
Agriculture, he said, is by its nature an unnatural practice, and its goal has always been to create plentiful crops that "no-one eats but us". We manage farmland in such a way as to minimise loss to weeds, birds and insects, while seeking to improve its yields with manure, artificial fertiliser and irrigation. GM crops create an opportunity to take that process a stage further, so that our species is increasingly the only one that eats the crops we sow in our fields.
This may have a damaging impact on farmland biodiversity, as birds, insects and the like no longer find food in cultivated fields. It is beyond dispute, I woud say, that GM technology has the potential to work this way, though certain applications of it may also target pests while sparing other species. But as Lord May pointed out, that doesn't necessarily mean they are bad for the environment as a whole.
The issue, which Borlaug also understood well, is this. As the population grows, humanity is faced with a choice. We can bring new land that is currently wilderness under cultivation (this would certainly be required were we to aspire to feed the entire world by organic methods, for example). Or we can make the farmland we already have work harder, by improving its yields.
The latter step will almost certainly damage biodiversity on that farmland -- but as its biodiversity is already limited, the extra cost will not be great. Clearance of forests and jungles, however, will have a much more devastating impact, as wilderness is a much richer habitat for wildlife than is farmland.
I hope that as we celebrate Borlaug's achievements, we can also learn from his perceptive approach to the future of agriculture. We will need to improve yields if we are to feed a growing population without destroying the little wilderness we have left. GM crops will not be the only method of achieving this, but they are a powerful one that we cannot afford to abandon.
Norman Borlaug's Fight to Feed the World
- Kevin Libin, National Post (Canada) September 14, 2009, 4:27
It's always great fun to crack jokes about Paul Ehrlich, and the Stanford professor will spend his days living down his hysterical claims about a "population bomb" and his doomful warnings in the late '60s of imminent worldwide famine. But as kooky as Ehrlich's neo-Malthusian theories seem to us now, to be fair, even he would have had difficulty anticipating how Norman Borlaug, who passed away this weekend, was to change the way the world produces food.
In 1968, Ehrlich argued "anyone familiar with the situation" agreed that India would be unable to support its swelling population in the coming years. He may well have been right: at the time, agriculture in India meant subsistence farming, based on rudimentary and ancient farming practices. Borlaug, having modernized Mexico's agricultural practices, dramatically increasing food supplies, saving a million lives in the process, was invited by the Indian government to help that country improve its crop yields. In the midst of a war with Pakistan, and despite dealing with suspicious, conservative bureaucrats and farmers, Borlaug's work in India was nothing less than spectacular: annual wheat yields nearly doubled from 1965 to 1970, from 12 million tonnes to 20 million tonnes.
By 1975, India went from being reliant on imports to becoming a net wheat exporter. By 2000, India's annual wheat yield was 75 million tonnes, more than 600% higher than when Borlaug arrived. Norman Borlaug's "Green Revolution" would virtually end starvation due to crop deficiencies (though not from political causes, such as war or tyranny) in Mexico, India and Pakistan. His concepts have saved millions more from famine in the Middle East, Latin America and Africa. When he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, the committee commented that "more than any other single person of this age, he has helped provide bread for a hungry world."
It is estimated that Norman Borlaug's work spared more than 1 billion people from premature death, and bettered our lives in myriad other ways, such as preventing the violence and war that can follow food scarcity. As Borlaug said "you can't build a peaceful world on empty stomachs and human misery." And by teaching farmers to grow more food on existing land plots, he protected millions of acres of forest from being razed.
Borlaug's secret weapon in bringing so much good to the world, is, as it happens, the very thing that so many environmental groups would like to see banished from the earth: Genetically modified food. These are the foods that are vilified by Greenpeace and others as "Frankenfoods," because they involve the combining of genetic traits from a variety of organisms to make for more robust, more productive crops-supposedly violating the laws of nature and upsetting the balance of fragile ecosystems, according to opponents. For example, a naturally occurring, tall, but thin stalk of wheat might have an edge in getting more sunlight, but might tip over when its grains grew heavy, destroying much of the crop. By hybridizing tall wheat with shorter, thicker-stalked varieties, Borlaug could create tall, sturdy, and fruitful crops. His modifications created wheat and rice that resisted disease, or pesticides, or that would deliver more calories.
With Norman Borlaug's passing Saturday, at the age of 95, we lose not only the quiet man who, as fans have noted, probably did more in any given month to alleviate Third World suffering than Bono or Bob Geldof have done in their lives. We lose the world's most credible voice in the promotion of genetically modified food as a tool for ending human suffering. Despite the scare-tactics of Greenpeace and the other anti-GM groups, Borlaug was quick to note nature has been crossing species barriers for centuries. Red wheat, he noted, comes from three groups of seven chromosomes, all blended from different wild grasses to produce the wheat we have today.
Until his death, Borlaug condemned these misguided, well fed, Western anti-GM environmentalists' success in scaring a number of desperate African countries into turning away his Green Revolution at the door (he was also outraged at the banning of DDT, sentencing millions of Africans, mostly children, to death). When he argued that the inefficiencies of organic farming, the green lobby's cause célèbre, would, if adopted worldwide, doom three billion people to starvation, no one spoke with more credibility han he did.
"These are utopian people that live on Cloud Nine and come into the Third World and cause all kinds of confusion and negative impacts," Borlaug said. He died believing that were every nation to modernize agriculture, with pesticides, fertilizers and genetically modified crops, there would be enough food for every man woman and child on earth, even with a planet of 8 billion people, the projected population in 2025.
Unfortunately, without Norman Borlaug, with all his brilliance, expertise and authority, to stand up to those who today work to halt the global spread of modernized commercial agriculture, Paul Ehrlich's projections of wide scale famine may yet someday still come true.
Against the Grain on Norman Borlaug
- Leo Hickman, guardian.co.uk, September 15, 2009
'The feted agronomist may have saved a billion from starvation, but critics say he planted the seed for future environmental woes'
Accolades don't come much more gushing than those expressed this week following the death of Norman Borlaug, the agronomist whose lifelong work developing high-yield crops played a major role in heralding the so-called "green revolution" and who has often been credited as the "man who saved a billion lives".
Throughout his life he was feted with awards and honours across the world: the Nobel Peace Prize, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, India's Padma Vibhushan, to name just a few.
But despite the passionate humanitarian zeal that drove much of his work, he certainly had his critics. The criticism was not so much aimed at the man himself, but for the biotech legacy he played such a major role in creating. After all, this was the man who arguably did more than any other to nurture the era of monocrops, GM foods and the intensive use of petrochemical pesticides and fertilisers. He may well have saved a billion people from imminent starvation, but by doing so, say his critics, he also inadvertently helped to plant the seed for future environmental woes.
Has there ever been a person in human history whose legacy has pivoted so precariously on the fulcrum between good and bad? We will only know the complete answer in the decades to come once the full implications of the world being so reliant on what are now called "conventional" farming methods have been borne out in the context of overpopulation, peak oil, climate change, water depletion and all the other issues now so inextricably linked to modern farming.
Borlaug was not naive on these issues, though. In his Nobel acceptance speech, he recognised that "we are dealing with two opposing forces, the scientific power of food production and the biologic power of human reproduction": There can be no permanent progress in the battle against hunger until the agencies that fight for increased food production and those that fight for population control unite in a common effort. Fighting alone, they may win temporary skirmishes, but united they can win a decisive and lasting victory to provide food and other amenities of a progressive civilization for the benefit of all mankind.
Borlaug said this in 1970 when the global human population stood at 3.7 billion. Today, it is fast approaching seven billion. Modern farming has won the "battle" with population control convincingly.
Borlaug also dismissed the sometimes barbed attack of the environmentalists by arguing that his high-yield crops helped protect rainforests because they allowed farmers to continue exploiting existing farmland, therefore avoiding the need to stray into neighbouring forests with their chainsaws and firesticks.
As he grew older, though, he became an increasingly fervent supporter of GM technology, arguing that without it the booming human population would face widespread famine.
It was another subject for which he often came into combat with some environmentalists. But he saved much of his disdain for the organic farming movement. This is what he told Reason magazine in 2000 when asked what he thought of organic farming: "Don't tell the world that we can feed the present population without chemical fertiliser. That's when this misinformation [about the merits of organic farming] becomes destructive."
Borlaug's vision and subsequent success was underpinned by the widespread availability of cheap oil. His solution for feeding the world was one that could only have ever been dreamed up in that post-war era when the energy source was obvious and unquestioned. But times have changed: with Borlaug's passing we are reminded how impatiently we await a successor to dream up the answer to our battle between rising population levels and sustainable food production.
In Prose or In Rap, Hard to Top Borlaug's Achievements
- Marc Hansen, Des Moines Register, September 14, 2009 http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20090914/NEWS03/909140323/-1/SPORTS09
A story on the World Food Prize Web site says native Iowan Norman Borlaug "saved more lives than anyone who has ever lived." I've read hundreds of obituaries on people from all walks of life. Some obits are modest: "Bill loved to vacuum."
Some are not: "Gina made the best fruitcake in the county." Or quirky: "Henry knew a hundred Ole and Lena jokes by heart."
The last two I made up. But it's hard to imagine an obituary topping "saved more lives than anyone who has ever lived."
From there, it isn't much of a leap to "the greatest mortal to walk the face of the Earth."
Seriously, what could surpass the all-time leader in saving lives? I can think of maybe one possibility and the designation can be attached only to fictional characters such as Jack Bauer and James Bond:
"Prevented terrorists from blowing up the world and destroying civilization as we know it."
We in the media made a huge fuss over Jason Oglesbee, the hero who saved the woman from drowning in the Des Moines River. And rightly so.
But Jason has his work cut out for him if he wants to catch up with the father of the Green Revolution, who was 95 when he died Saturday.
The rest of us have slightly lower standards. Almost everybody else would settle for something like:
Now, you'd think saving a billion lives, more or less, would be a good thing. But some people still believe that high-yield agriculture in places like Africa is bad for the environment, whether it saves lives or not. Borlaug argued that inorganic fertilizers would put less stress on the natural habitat by yielding more food on fewer acres.
One person who agrees is C.S. Prakash, a professor of plant molecular genetics at Tuskegee University in Alabama. When people have enough to eat, Prakash says, they don't fight so much and the world becomes more peaceful.
To bring Borlaug's name and story out of the halls of academia and to the people, Prakash produced "The Norman Borlaug Rap," sung by Prakash's teenage son, Rohan.
I wrote about the song a few years ago. Rather than quote another batch of erudite experts, it's a good time to take another look at the lyrics.
Prakash says it's an amateur production. But Borlaug got a laugh out of it, and maybe the song will bring the great man's work a little closer to the masses. Probably not, but here are a few verses anyway:
More at http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20090914/NEWS03/909140323/-1/SPORTS09
The Man Who Fed the World
- Editorial, Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept 15, 2009 http://www.philly.com/inquirer/
The extraordinary humanitarian legacy of plant scientist and Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug was a testament to the value of education, hard work, and a sense of wonder.
And what a legacy it was.
Borlaug, who died Saturday at age 95, was described as the "man who fed the world" and credited with saving hundreds of millions of people from starvation with his work on multiplying wheat harvests.
But for Borlaug's development of disease-resistant varieties of wheat capable of yielding many times the harvest of traditional strains, the decades since 1960 would have seen famine's death toll increased by up to a billion. His work aided farmers in Latin America, Africa, China and the Indian subcontinent, among many other global communities.
His career was groundbreaking in the literal and figurative sense - to the point where Borlaug was bent over a wheat crop in a field near Mexico City when he received news of his 1970 Nobel Peace Prize.
That scene was a reminder of his youth as an Iowa farm boy of Norwegian stock who, according to relatives, was intensely curious even then about why grass flourished in some areas and not others.
Borlaug's natural curiosity would be tested by years of painstaking work on crop development in Mexico, where he was sent by the Rockefeller Foundation to do research critical to that nation's farmers being able to feed themselves and others.
Borlaug actually attended the proverbial one-room school of country lore, and might well have ended his education early to work on the farm. But he was urged by a little-educated grandfather to go on to college despite the Depression. He studied forestry and eventually earned a doctorate in plant pathology, paving the way for his discoveries in food production.
Upon his death, Borlaug was heralded by colleagues who noted the irony that this would be the first time many people became acquainted with the scientist.
In the West, that's no doubt a product of the fact that we take for granted a bountiful food supply. It may also be a sad reflection of the flagging interest and emphasis on studying basic sciences - and perhaps the undermining of scientific knowledge for political aims on topics like climate change.
If anything, Borlaug's work demonstrated that the nation neglects scientific inquiry at its peril.
Not that the scientist's legacy was unalloyed. Indeed, he came to question the environmental cost of the heavy use of fertilizers and social impact of agribusiness. Those challenges loom even larger as the world population nears seven billion.
Beyond growing food that's green by today's definition, the global community remains stymied by man-made factors contributing to famine - notably poverty, political and ethnic conflicts, and armed clashes.
It was the Nobel committee's hope in honoring Borlaug that providing "bread for a hungry world . . . will also give the world peace." That remains the work of many others to follow.
Statement from President Carter on Norman Borlaug
ATLANTA -- I am saddened by the passing of my close friend and colleague Dr. Norman Borlaug.
For more than two decades, I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Borlaug, a senior fellow at The Carter Center, on the Sasakawa-Global 2000 effort to increase agricultural production in Africa.
Throughout his life, Dr. Borlaug was committed to alleviating hunger and improving food production technologies that have saved millions of lives. One day the advancements he shepherded may end our global hunger crisis. I have experienced first-hand the reverence that thousands of Africans have for Dr. Borlaug's untiring efforts to relieve their hunger. His compassion and humanity will continue to inspire generations to come. Dr. Borlaug is a hero, and his contributions to the field of science and the cause of peace were immeasurable.
My wife, Rosalynn, and I send our deepest condolences to Dr. Borlaug's family.
A Shining Example of What Science Can Do
- The Montreal Gazette, September 15, 2009
The world lost one of the 20th century's true heroes Saturday with the death, at 95, of agricultural visionary Norman Borlaug. A seed scientist who forcefully closed the gap between theory and practice, Borlaug is widely and justly known as "the father of the Green Revolution." His work increased crop yields in Asia and elsewhere at a time when population growth was outstripping world food production. Nobody denies that Borlaug's work saved hundreds of millions of lives.
Borlaug was more than a white-coated ivory-tower theorist. A farm boy from Iowa, he realized early that the improved grain varieties he had developed would make subsistence farmers wary. So he and others hand-delivered his seeds to small farmers, in India and elsewhere. Aided by the Indian government - the farm minister dug up his personal cricket pitch to be a demonstration site - Borlaug got the word out across India by the mid-1960s. Yields began to rise, farmers became enthusiastic, and India's wheat crop grew by 41 per cent in two years. In 1970, Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
But even such a blessing as more abundant food has its nay-sayers. Critics complain that the green revolution uses too much water and fertilizer, has encouraged monocultures, and has helped some farmers more than others. To which common sense can reply only "What part of 'saved hundreds of millions of lives' do you not understand?" The same question can be put to those who object to new agricultural advances, notably the genetic modification of foodstuffs, an innovation Borlaug supported.
In an era when technology has solved so many basic problems, but created so many new ones, Borlaug stands as a shining example of what science and technology can accomplish. Tragically, however, the innovations Borlaug pioneered did not take hold very effectively in Africa. The problem there was not with the seeds or the science, he concluded, but with politics. Corrupt, unresponsive, and even failed governments proved unable in many places across Africa to provide irrigation, or even farm roads. It's a sadly familiar story: The tools to make progress are at hand, but the political will is not.
But in South Asia, and elsewhere, conditions were right for Norman Borlaug to solve a problem for humanity, and he did so with spectacular success. We need more like him.
Norman Borlaug, India's 'Annadaata', Dies at 95
- Chidanand Rajghatta, Times of India, Sept. 13, 2009 http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/
Long before Mr Bush and Dr Rice came by to leapfrog US-India ties to a new level, it was Prof. Wheat who jump-started and nourished the relationship. Norman Borlaug, the genial scientist-pacifist who died of cancer in Dallas on Saturday, was as much India's 'annadaata' as he was the Father of the Green Revolution.
Around the time Dr Borlaug arrived on the scene in the mid-1960s, the specter of famine, shortages, and starvation hung over the sub-continent. India was importing huge quantities of food grains from the US - much of it dole - to feed its growing millions in a manner that was famously described as "ship-to-mouth" sustenance.
Enter Norman Borlaug, a strapping, self-made, sun-burnt American from the farmland of Iowa, who had spent more a decade by then in Mexico after hard-earned doctorate in Depression-era US. What he had pulled off in experiments in Mexico was a miracle, that if successfully applied in India, would fill its granaries to overflow - as it eventually did.
By cranking up a wheat strain containing an unusual gene, Borlaug created the so-called ''semi-dwarf'' plant variety -- a shorter, stubbier, compact stalk that supported an enormous head of grain without falling over from the weight. This curious principle of shrinking the plant to increase the output on the plant from the same acreage resulted in Indian farmers eventually quadrupling their wheat -- and later, rice -- production.
It heralded the Green Revolution.
A Bharat Ratna should have been his for the taking, but he was not one to ask. He disdained all awards and honours, even making light of the Nobel (Peace) Prize when his Swedish forbears, in 1970, recognized his enormous contribution to mankind (Pakistan, China, and eventually the whole world benefited from his work in Mexico). When his wife ran to the fields to tell him about the recognition, the story goes, he shooed her away saying someone was pulling her leg.
''More than any other person of this age,'' the Nobel citation read, ''he helped provide bread for a hungry world. We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace.''
In several conversations and interviews with this correspondent in the past decade, the last one in 2008 at the height of the food vs fuel debate (he was against using food as vehicular fuel), Dr Borlaug recalled his days and association with India with delight. In one conversation in 2006 during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit, he asked for good wishes to be conveyed to his friend. When the message was relayed through the PM"s then media advisor Sanjaya Baru, the Prime Minister gracefully recalled Dr Borlaug's immense contribution to India's security in his address to the joint session of US Congress the next day.
A year later, the Bush administration awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honour, the highest US civilian award Borlaug has his critics for sure, most notably ''organic'' evangelists such as Dr Vandana Shiva. After initially dismissing them as elitist, he acknowledged they did have a point about the dangers of excessive use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, although he never once gave up his fundamental thesis that the world's exploding population could not be fed without scientific intervention -- for which reason he also supported GM and trangenic crops.
Last week, as this correspondent drove through the lush grainfields of Punjab on a visit to the Golden Temple, it was another occasion to reflect on this titan's contribution to India. Dr Borlaug was fond of saying he could hear the joyful hum of wheat heads swaying in the fields. Today, they would be playing a soulful dirge to the man who helped us, to a great degree, feed ourselves.
A Humanist First: Dr Borlaug's science was born of the desire to end hunger
- Business Standard (New Delhi), September 15, 2009, 0:56 IST
The world owes a huge debt to Norman E Borlaug, who passed away at 95 in Texas on Saturday. Dr Borlaug, as is well known, was the agricultural scientist who triggered what came to be called the Green Revolution in several countries, by breeding high-yielding wheat seeds. But he was more than that, for he was first a humanist who campaigned relentlessly for eradicating world hunger.
He gave up a promising career in DuPont to take up an assignment with the Rockefeller Foundation in Mexico, to conceive strategies for combating hunger in that country. It was this challenge that made him realise the need for raising crop yields through better seeds and production technologies. His natural instinct as a person born and brought up in the early part of his life on a farm stood him in good stead in evolving dwarf wheat strains that could give high yields when combined with fertiliser and irrigation.
But he did not stop there, for he went on to take up the bigger challenge of helping farmers grow those seeds and of convincing governments of the countries beset with recurring famines to promote these seeds and the new production technology. These efforts bore fruit and countries like Mexico and India managed to become self-sufficient in food.
Hailed in India as the father of the Green Revolution - a term which he did not particularly like, perhaps because the word revolution was attached to it and he was a man of peace - Dr Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, on the premise that providing bread would also give the world peace. But the truth also was that this was the only way to recognise his momentous contribution to agriculture as there was no provision for any Nobel Prize in the agricultural sciences. This lacuna was later made up by Dr Borlaug himself by instituting the World Food Prize. India honoured him with a Padma Vibhushan.
Unhappily, Dr Borlaug died knowing that his dream of making the world hunger-free is not even half-fulfilled. Millions of people, including in the Green Revolution countries, still go to bed hungry and die early due to malnutrition. His yield-enhancing technology depended on policy and infrastructural support for success, and this did not come forth in many countries. Though the dwarf Mexican wheat varieties were introduced by Dr Borlaug simultaneously in India and Pakistan, the Green Revolution came earlier to India than to Pakistan. This was because India (under the leadership of the then agriculture minister, C Subramanian), took the bold decision to import 18,000 tonnes of Mexican wheat seeds in one go in 1966. It had also created the supportive infrastructure to multiply and further improve upon these seeds, provide price support, promote the production and use of fertiliser and other inputs, and expand irrigation facilities.
In the past decade or so, Dr Borlaug concentrated on replicating the Indian success in food-starved African countries but with mixed results. Indeed, his technology, as also philosophy of input-intensive agriculture, has come under assault from environmentalists who blame it for ecological degradation and the water crisis. However, Dr Borlaug remained unmoved and continued till the end to maintain that there was no alternative.
Organic farming, which many environmentalists advocate, would not be able to feed even a fraction of the world's ever-increasing population, he argued. As in so many other things, he was absolutely right.
We Should Know His Name
- Calgary Herald, September 15, 2009
It was well said by Jonathan Swift that "whoever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass, to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together."
Such a man has passed from our midst in the person of Norman Borlaug, the American agronomist who died last week at 95.
His peculiar accomplishment was to develop and teach high-yield agriculture. In particular, he bred disease-resistant dwarf wheat for the Third World, so the ground's scarce nutrients were utilized for ears of grain to be eaten, not long stalks for the fire. Through such innovations, Borlaug is credited with turning Mexico into a grain exporter during the 1960s, and with cracking the problem of famine that then bedevilled South Asia and other parts of the world.
Indeed, it may safely be said no one person did more to expand food production through plant breeding than he. We will never know how many lives were saved by the adoption of his methods: Estimates published in obituaries range from 245 million to as many as one billion. Certainly, it is a huge number, and to it must be added an endowment of human happiness, as billions experienced abundance, and saw their children grow up healthy.
The merits of his work have not gone unchallenged, especially by those who, wrapping themselves in a cloak of green, preach population control, complain about the long-term carcinogenic effects of fertilizers, or predict unwelcome consequences from genetically modified food.
However, long-term ill effects are secondary, if the short-term alternative is starvation. And as western neo-Malthusians seldom propose their own demise as the solution to overpopulation, but instead somebody on another continent, we find their arguments unpersuasive and repugnant.
Seldom does mankind actually do well by those who deserve well of it, but Borlaug was an exception. In an award untouched by the moral ambiguity that so often attends the world's good opinion, this modest scientist received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.
May he rest in peace: It is to mankind's lasting benefit that he rested little in life.
Norman Borlaug: Agronomist and 'grandfather of the Green Revolution'
- Editorial, The Times (UK) , Sept 14, 2009 http://www.timesonline.co.uk/
Norman Borlaug has, in the opinion of many experts, saved more human lives than any other individual in history. He was the grandfather of the "Green Revolution" in which, between 1961 and 1980, wheat crop yields doubled, tripled and sometimes quadrupled around the world. His experiments with hybrid wheat strains and nitrogenous fertiliser created strains of the staple food impervious to pests, bad weather and poor soil, enabling the world to support a far greater human population than many thought possible after the Second World War. Yet his methods and message fell out of favour, to the detriment of millions - especially in Africa.
In the mid-1950s Malthusian doomsayers saw the contrary trajectories of population growth and food production in South-East Asia and the Indian sub-continent and predicted catastrophic worldwide starvation, the denudation of forests and seas followed by an inevitable population crash. The reversal in the Third World's agronomic fortunes was so sudden and so miraculous that many have since forgotten the holocaust forestalled - especially, in Borlaug's view, the trendier sections of the green lobby which seek to impose organic food and "natural" production methods on the world's poorest countries.
Norman Borlaug was born in 1914, the grandson of Norwegian immigrants, in Saude, near Cresco, Iowa. He worked on the family farm until 19, when he signed up for the National Youth Administration, one of Franklin Roosevelt's "alphabet agencies" set up to combat poverty and despair during the Great Depression. His commitment secured him a place at the University of Minnesota in 1933, but he ran out of money. He transferred to the College of Agriculture's forestry service and then joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the US Forestry Service. As a group leader with the CCC he was in charge of many recruits who were emaciated and starving; refugees from the great Dust Bowl that had laid waste to the plains of America from Texas to South Dakota. He said: "I saw how food changed them, and this left scars on me."
He completed his degree in forestry in 1937, the year he met Elvin C. Stakman, a pioneer of plant pathology. Borlaug was inspired by Stakman's determination to defeat wheat rust, a parasitic fungus that destroyed thousands of acres of wheat every few years, and resolved to build on his research. He gained his master's degree in 1940 and his PhD in 1942, and was taken on by DuPont laboratories in Wilmington, Delaware.
Borlaug attempted to enlist, but was told that his laboratory was about to be turned over to war work, for which he was needed. He helped to develop canteen disinfectant, watertight sealants for electronic components and an adhesive gum that could withstand prolonged exposure to salt water. It was used to seal supply crates dumped into the sea for US troops stranded on the shores of Guadalcanal. In July 1944 DuPont was allowed to resume commercial activities, but Borlaug, keen to apply himself fully to agriculture, left to enlist on a joint project launched by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Mexican Government. Its aim was to massively boost the country's ailing wheat harvests.
Beginning his work under George Harrar, Borlaug worked near Texcoco for ten years in difficult conditions, developing hundreds of hybrid strains. After several fallouts with Harrar, resistance from local farmers and a threat of resignation by Borlaug, he persuaded his superiors to try his idea of "shuttle breeding", in which a succesful strain harvested in the central highlands of Mexico would be sped north to arid Sonora for a second growing season. The idea was a breakthrough; the seeds that Borlaug had cross-fertilised did equally well in both areas, defeating two widely held beliefs: that seeds needed "rest time" to develop and that specific strains had to be developed for each agricultural region.
In 1953 Borlaug experimented with a Japanese dwarf variety. Its multiple wheat heads produced high yields, but made poor flour and was highly susceptible to disease. Borlaug hoped to create a hybrid that preserved only the positive traits, and after many generations of cross-pollination and many disastrous crops he produced a variety that seemed viable. The result was immediate and astonishing: Mexican wheat production, at 1,400 kg per hectare in 1960, exploded to 2,700 kg per hectare in 1963. This was the beginning of the Green Revolution.
In 1965 attempts were made to ship containers of semi-dwarf seeds to India and Pakistan, but war broke out between the two countries shortly after an agreement was reached. When, at last, the grain arrived Borlaug experienced even more local resistance than in Mexico: subsistence farmers were terrified of trusting their next harvest to a scientific experiment. Politicians, quoting widely held scientific belief, opined that the imported seed would introduce foreign pests and disease that would devastate food stocks. Nationalists pointed out that the new strains had been developed by an American, and newspapers carried the rumour that the new wheat caused sterility. Frustrated at the impasse, the Indian Agriculture Minister Chidambaram Subramaniam dug up his private cricket pitch, planting it and 1,000 other demonstration sites with the new strains. Others followed his example, and India's wheat crop increased from 12 million tonnes in 1965 to 17 million in 1967. That year Pakistan, a country dependent on wheat imports, imported 42,000 tonnes of seeds. It was self-sufficient in seed stocks 12 months later.
Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his services to food production in 1970. By then, 40 million hectares of land worldwide were being used for semi-dwarf wheat cultivation, comprising the most productive 10 per cent of the planet's agricultural land. He had confounded doomsayers such as the biologist Paul Ehrilich whose book The Population Bomb, published the previous year, predicted that millions would soon die of starvation. The revolution was confounded in Africa, however, first by warfare and political instability, and then by Western environmentalism.
In 1972 use of the pesticide DDT was banned in America, a decade after Rachel Carson's chilling Silent Spring was published, and opinion began to turn against the indiscriminate use of chemical pathogens and fertilisers which had been the engine of the Green Revolution. Economists and biologists argued that monoculture made poor populations serfs to corporate landowners and doomed them if their staple crop was destroyed by disease. Others felt that sending vast amounts of chemical fertiliser to Africa would destroy its agricultural traditions for the benefit of Western industrialists. Some have suggested much darker reasons than post-colonial guilt for the withdrawal of the World Bank, the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Institute from large monoculture projects in Africa in the early 1980s - not least the global ramifications of a stable, industrialised, consumerist Africa. In any case the result was that Africa was left with centuries-old crop strains until the Ethiopian famine of 1984-85.
Although the famine owed more to war, drought and government corrruption than to archaic production methods, Borlaug was convinced that a world "hungry for bread and for peace" must resolve politics and poverty in tandem. Determined that no such catastrophe should occur again in Africa, Ryoicho Sasakawa, the chairman of the Nippon Foundation, invited Borlaug to oversee a project to supply African farmers with short-strawed, drought-resistant wheat. The first shipments were made to Ghana and Sudan in 1986, the year that Borlaug was made president of the Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA). The scheme gained the support of the former US President Jimmy Carter, but progress in Africa was far more piecemeal than in Asia, and carried out in a very different climate. A broad professional college now held that Borlaug's work was politically, even morally, wrong. Others, shocked by the intransigence of the Marxist Mengistu regime in Ethiopia, were resigned to thinking that no African government really cared whether or not its people starved and therefore anything but reactive charity was doomed to failure. The SAA approached smallholders individually, and the Sasakawa Global 2000 programme operated in ten African countries that showed "a readiness to end hunger" by 2003, reaching four million farmers. Thereafter local difficulties reduced the operation to four countries, and the Green Revolution has yet to truly take hold in Africa.
Borlaug always made clear that advances in yield could buy only breathing space from a disaster that was certain unless the "population monster" was curtailed. In his Nobel lecture of 1970, Borlaug stated: "Most people still fail to comprehend the magnitude and menace of the population monster. The rhythm of increase will accelerate . . . unless Man becomes more realistic and preoccupied about his impending doom." To Borlaug's dismay, the developed world has since accepted the impending doom, but has tied it to nebulous concepts such as carbon emissions rather than the world population trends that underpin it. This approach has helped to evangelise the organic food lobby and led to blithe ignorance of the "Borlaug hypothesis", that increasing the productivity of agriculture on the best land - by whatever means necessary - is the only way to preserve what remains of the world's forests and wild places. The Green Revolution continues to be discredited by both serious scientists and conspiracy theorists: in 1991 the eco-feminist Vandana Shiva, director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in Delhi, published The Violence of the Green Revolution, blaming Borlaug's methods for destroying both crop diversity and wider society in India. Resistance continues to mount against biotechnology, which Borlaug saw as the next logical step in the revolution.
In April 2002 Borlaug signed a declaration with several environmental experts, including Patrick Moore, the co-founder of Greenpeace, in favour of "high-yield conservation". The movement against trendy agricultural primitivism has since gained pace, yet the lack of respect paid to Borlaug's teachings in recent years is astonishing in relation to his impact on human society. Many of those who rubbished his acheivements as a "brown revolution", he said, were Utopians and elitists who had "never experienced the physical sensation of hunger".
He won many international awards, but his own country was slow to give him credit. In July 2007 he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, although the wording of the law by which it was awarded sought political mileage from his acheivements: "Dr Borlaug has saved more lives than any other person who has ever lived," it stated. "And likely has saved more lives in the Islamic world than any other human being in history."
From 1984 until recently Borlaug taught at Texas A&M University. His wife died in 2007. He is survived by two children.
Norman Borlaug, agronomist, was born on March 25, 1914. He died on September 12, 2009, aged 95
Remembering Norman Borlaug
- Theodore Crosbie, Ph.D., Vice President, Global Plant Breeding, Monsanto http://blog.monsantoblog.com/
I first met Norman Borlaug as a graduate student in Plant Breeding at Iowa State University. My classmates and I dutifully filed into the agronomy auditorium to hear another Thursday seminar that afternoon in 1973.
Our speaker was viewed as a feisty renegade. At the time, some faculty expressed disbelief that Norm Borlaug merited a Nobel Prize.
He hadn't published a thing in a journal that mattered. Peasants knew of his work instead of the National Academy of Science. It was widely believed that he had been relegated to work in remote areas of Mexico because he couldn't cut it in either industry or academia. Rumors around his disagreements with Rockefeller Foundation executives were legendary. Many wondered if this was yet another reason he drove a jalopy on dusty Mexican roads. Frankly, we all wondered why we had to listen to this guy.
We were conditioned to hear lengthy lectures on Statistical and Quantitative Genetics with an occasional discourse on Cytogenetics. We were not prepared for a talk with no slides, full of fire and brimstone, and peppered with stories about economic failure, famine, and political mutiny. Dr. Borlaug gave us a different version of Plant Breeding. "Real breeding," he called it, and practical science aimed at solving real, not academic and irrelevant problems.
When he was finished, no one knew what to ask so Dr. Borlaug asked the questions. What was Iowa State doing to solve the hunger crisis around the world? How were we turning theory into practice on farms in India? Everyone looked well fed in Iowa. Why were we wasting our time improving yields in the Midwest when people were starving elsewhere in the world? Surely everyone knew that hungry bellies lead to anarchy.
The bell rang, and we went back to our world. Until the next morning that is, when Dr. Borlaug had insisted on meeting with the graduate students.
When it came to my turn, I explained that for my thesis I was studying the inheritance of photosynthetic rate using random inbred lines of corn from Iowa Stiff Stalk Synthetic. No one before or since in any setting has ever grilled me as he did that morning.
"Why are you working on that?"
"Do you really think photosynthesis is limiting yield in a C4 species like corn?"
"Why in the hell are you using taxpayer dollars to work on something that doesn't matter? And why are you using random lines?"
"Young man, the whole idea in plant breeding is to study what matters in selected lines. It doesn't matter what happens in lines that you should be throwing away."
His advice to me was to choose a thesis project that mattered next time, which I did. For a Ph.D., I studied the physiological basis for yield changes in long-term selection programs.
Many years later, he asked me about our exchange over breakfast in the [ http://www.cimmyt.org/ ]CIMMYT cafeteria. He was pleased to hear that I had taken his advice.
Dr. Borlaug became a role model for many of us after that experience. He had opened our eyes, and he did the same for many people around the world.
It wasn't that he had a disdain for theory, but turning theory into practice is the essence of plant breeding.
It wasn't that he didn't value basic research, but he wanted to see cutting edge science of the day turned into varieties that would solve hunger.
It wasn't that he didn't understand the statistical validity associated with random lines, but he wanted to see it taken to the next level to understand whether something was truly limiting yield at an elite germplasm level.
Neither of us knew on that Friday morning in 1973 how much he would ultimately influence Monsanto Plant Breeding through me, but he did and he now knows.
Ted Crosbie is Vice President of Global Plant Breeding of the Monsanto Agricultural Sector. Dr. Crosbie is responsible for seven crops worldwide and is a member of the Monsanto Advisory Committee and the Technology Leadership Team. Monsanto's Plant Breeding organization is one of the largest breeding efforts in the world with more than 1,000 employees and over 100 sites worldwide in 20 countries. In January 2002, Dr. Crosbie was named a Distinguished Fellow in Science in recognition of his broad strategic impact in Monsanto through scientific leadership.
Do you have a memory of Dr. Borlaug? Visit http://www.normanborlaug.blogspot.com to share yours.
The American Who Helped India Conquer Hunger
- Vishal Rambani , Hindustan Times, September 13, 2009 http://www.hindustantimes.com/
The poor rains of 1979, 1987 or 2002 did not result in a food crisis in India like in the 1960s. And this is something for which the country must give credit to American agricultural scientist Norman Borlaug, who died of cancer at his home in Texas, USA, at the age of 95 on Saturday.
The only person to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for contribution in agriculture and food production, Borlaug is considered the brain behind India's Green Revolution of the 1960s. Before India, experiments with high-yielding varieties (HYV) of seeds took place in Mexico, with some success.
Borlaug's Mexican HYV wheat varieties and their Indian and Pakistani derivatives had been the principal catalyst in triggering the Green Revolution. Borlaug first visited India in 1963. His HYV seed Leema Rojo was the most successful variety that increased the yield of wheat in Punjab manifold.
"The high-yielding variety was reddish-brown and did not find favour with a lot of people. Under Borlaug's guidance, Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) professor Kalyan Singh crossbred it with Indian varieties and evolved a new type called Kalyan. This became highly successful," former PAU Vice-Chancellor K.S. Aulukh told HT.
The Green Revolution, which first took place in Punjab, spread rapidly to other parts of India. As a result, the country achieved self-sufficiency in food production by the early 1990s. "We all eat at least three times a day in privileged nations, and yet we take food for granted," Borlaug said recently in an interview posted on Texas A&M (Agricultural and Mechanical) University's web site.
Borlaug last visited PAU in 2005 and expressed satisfaction after visiting farms there and seeing new varieties of wheat, Aulukh said. In his address to scientists at PAU, Borlaug exhorted them to fight against hunger. "He always sent new inventions to us for field experiments," Aulukh said.
Borlaug had been criticised by environmentalists for his innovation of genetically modified food (food developed by altering gene structures) and advocating the use of fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides. "It is better to die eating genetically modified food instead of dying of hunger," he remarked at PAU.
Borlaug's Legacy Will Affirm Necessity of Feeding the World's Hungry
- Ron Smith, Southwest Farm Press Sep 15, 2009 http://southwestfarmpress.com
Last March 25 I sat in a crowded banquet hall at The Northwood Club in Dallas and listened to Dr. Norman Borlaug speak humbly but eloquently about what the agriculture industry must do to feed the world.
He celebrated his 95th birthday that day and took the opportunity to remind an admiring and awed audience that his life's work was not done. Dr. Borlaug saved as many as 1 billion people from starvation through his efforts to increase grain production under diverse growing conditions. He worked in many third world countries where starvation was common and assistance was not.
He's the father of the Green Revolution. He showed, as a humble USDA scientist, how much difference one man can make if he's committed to helping others.
When I learned of Dr. Borlaug's death Monday morning I realized that the world had lost one of its greatest humanitarians, one of its most dedicated public servants and one of its most revered scientists.
I don't have many heroes. Celebrities and politicians, for the most part, are too involved in their own agendas, their own press clippings and the latest political or popularity polls to warrant adulation. Exceptions are rare.
Dr. Borlaug was more than worthy. He earned the highest accolades: the Nobel Peace Prize, the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Medal of Freedom. But prizes were not his motivation. Ending misery was.
He talked about misery and hunger back in March.
"Hunger and poverty do more than plant the seeds of despair," he said. "They also plant the seeds of anarchy and terrorism. Hunger and misery have been part of human existence for thousands of years. There are references in both the Bible and the Koran. But all in this room today and thousands of others are dedicated to producing more food and doing it without destroying the environment."
He said science and technology have thwarted global disaster so far. "We have survived." He attributed success to the "generosity of affluent nations to put more and more support behind international programs."
But the struggle continues. "We have to fight, fight, fight," he said. "You don't win by being afraid of change and change we must have. We are going in the right direction."
Dr. Borlaug, in a brief personal conversation following the event, told me the Green Revolution must continue. He said genetic engineering, far from being an environmental nightmare, will be essential to feed a rapidly growing world population.
It would be easy to assume that Dr. Borlaug's passing leaves a huge void in agricultural research devoted to ending hunger. And the assumption has merit. I'm not confident we will soon see the same commitment, dedication and self-sacrifice that motivated him.
But I could be wrong because Dr. Borlaug was also a teacher and one cannot help but assume that he passed along more than his knowledge of plant genetics to his students. I have to believe that more than a few also embraced his philosophy of service.
And one of the last honors agriculture bestowed on him was the creation of the Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program, which will identify and support young scientists interested in research and production to improve rice and wheat (Dr. Henry Beachell was a renowned rice breeder.). Monsanto announced its sponsorship of the $10 million, five-year program at Dr. Borlaug's 95th birthday celebration. Texas A&M AgriLife Research administers the program.
Dr. Norman Borlaug will be missed, but his work will stand as a monument to what people of good will can do to improve the world. His scientific achievements will continue to feed hungry people and his inspiration will continue to encourage others to carry on his work.
His example will motivate others to take up his cause, as it did this sometimes cynical reporter on a cold, rainy day in March that turned out to be one of the most meaningful assignments of my career.
Dr. Norman Borlaug, R.I.P. - Remembering the Man Who Fed the World
- Curtis Porter, American Council of Science and Health, September 14th, 2009 http://www.acsh.org
ACSH staffers are deeply saddened today by the passing of ACSH Founding Director and Trustee Dr. Norman Borlaug. Dr. Borlaug was known as the Father of the Green Revolution for his agricultural innovations, which have saved an estimated one billion lives to date. His contributions to science and humanity earned him a Nobel Peace Prize, a Congressional Gold Medal, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and many other awards, though he lived a life of relative anonymity for a man of his influence.
ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan writes, "Dr. Norman Borlaug has to be the most significant human being born in the twentieth century -- but so few people have even heard of him. He was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 (the Nobel team called about 6am, but Norman was already in the field, his hands in the soil -- his wife had to drive in the dark to find him to tell him the news, which he did not believe).
"Yet he was so humble and down to earth. He would regularly call me at ACSH and tell me what a great job I was doing to defend sound science. Each of these calls inevitably reduced me to tears. Dr. Borlaug was telling me that I was doing a good job?! Almost two years ago -- on the day of his ninety-fourth birthday -- he called to say he was in town and asked if he could come over. We dashed to the bakery across the street to get a cake and candles -- and had a great celebration in our conference room as Norman lectured us on the looming dangers of wheat rust."
The New York Times obituary tells the story of his dedication to his research: "He spent countless hours hunched over in the blazing Mexican sun as he manipulated tiny wheat blossoms to cross different strains. To speed the work, he set up winter and summer operations in far-flung parts of Mexico, logging thousands of miles over poor roads. He battled illness, forded rivers in flood, dodged mudslides, and sometimes slept in tents."
There are still those, however, who question the value of Dr. Borlaug's achievements. As the Wall Street Journal notes, "In later life, Borlaug was criticized by self-described 'greens' whose hostility to technology put them athwart the revolution he had set in motion. Borlaug fired back, warning in these pages that fear-mongering by environmental extremists against synthetic pesticides, inorganic fertilizers, and genetically modified foods would again put millions at risk of starvation while damaging the very biodiversity those extremists claimed to protect. In saving so many, Borlaug showed that a genuine green movement doesn't pit man against the Earth, but rather applies human intelligence to exploit the Earth's resources to improve life for everyone."
"He was fighting for humanity and for the Earth as opposed to a political or environmentalist agenda," explains ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. "Part of the reason he is so little known is because he was so modest, kind, and humble. He was completely unassuming, not arrogant at all. The only time he ascended the podium was to fight against junk science and those who demonized the life-saving technologies of the modern food industry. Only when he took the mantle of science upon himself was he confrontational."
"I agree," adds long-time ACSH staffer and Associate Director Cheryl Martin. "He exuded compassion and humility, and it was always an honor to be in his presence. Whenever he visited ACSH, I was nourished by his wisdom, passion, and dedication. He always took time to praise and emphasize the importance of the work we do at ACSH. He certainly will be missed, but I know his work and his message lives on."
As he said in his Nobel Lecture, Dr. Borlaug remained optimistic for the future of mankind, who he called a "potentially rational being." He encouraged that rationality in facing the world's problems, and he proved that it could be used to make a dramatic difference. Now, in his absence, ACSH strives to continue his work of promoting the responsible use of science to improve the human condition, just as we have done since he helped found our organization over thirty years ago.
There is sadness here at ACSH for the loss of our friend, but we, too, remain optimistic, and as we carry on Dr. Borlaug's tradition of rationality and concern for our fellow man, we remember the words of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee upon the selection of Dr. Borlaug as a laureate: "[M]ore than any other single person of this age, he has helped to provide bread for a hungry world. We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace."
'Green Revolution' Founder Borlaug Dies at 95
Hear the PBS Interview with Gary Toenniessen at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/remember/july-dec09/faminefighter_09-14.html
'A look back at the life of Norman Borlaug, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize who developed important agricultural strategies for countries around the world. Borlaug died over the weekend at the age of 95.'
JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, we remember the founder of the green revolution that saved hundreds of millions of people around the world from hunger. Norman Borlaug was a Midwestern farm boy turned plant scientist. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for developing new varieties of wheat and rice that transformed agriculture from Mexico to India. He died over the weekend at the age of 95.
To discuss Borlaug and his legacy, we're joined by Gary Toenniessen of the Rockefeller Foundation, a longtime backer of Borlaug's work. Gary Toenniessen, thank you very much for being here. You were just telling me you knew him for almost four decades. You saw him as recently as a month ago. Tell us a little bit more about who he was and how he got interested in plants.
GARY TOENNIESSEN: Well, Norm was a farm boy, always was interested in the scientific aspects of plants and of agriculture, was lucky enough to get into the University of Minnesota and worked his way through a PhD program there as a plant pathologist, and then worked for a couple years before he joined the Rockefeller Foundation program in Mexico in 1944.
That was a cooperative program with the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture aimed at trying to improve agriculture in what was then a country which had significant food shortages and a fair degree of political unrest due to those food shortages.
Read on or Listen at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/remember/july-dec09/faminefighter_09-14.html
U.S. Rep. Latham: Effort Underway to Honor Norman Borlaug in U.S. Capitol
Contact: Fred Love 202-225-5476 firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON, DC - Iowa Congressman Tom Latham is leading an effort to replace one of the two Iowa statues currently on display in the United States Capitol building with a statue honoring the late Norman Borlaug.
"Dr. Borlaug is a true American hero and a legendary Iowan," Congressman Latham said. "His work has saved billions of lives across the globe from starvation, and I can think of no better example of a great Iowan to the millions of people who visit the Capitol each year than Norman."
Congressman Latham has written a letter calling on the Iowa Legislature and governor to begin the required procedures for the statue to be displayed in the U.S. Capitol.
An act of Congress 1864 allowed each state to provide two statues of notable citizens for display in the Capitol. In 2000, Congress passed legislation allowing states to replace the statues if a resolution to do so is approved by a state's legislature and governor. Iowa's current statues depict Samuel Kirkwood and James Harlan. Three states have gone through the process of replacing statues in recent years: Kansas has replaced one of its statues with that of Dwight Eisenhower, Alabama with Helen Keller and California with Ronald Reagan.
Borlaug, a Cresco native who died on Saturday at age 95, conducted groundbreaking work in breeding varieties of wheat to feed starving populations across the globe. Congressman Latham led a successful effort in 2007 to award Borlaug the Congressional Gold Medal. Borlaug also received a Nobel Peace Prize and a Presidential Medal of Freedom during his lifetime.
"Norman Borlaug is one of the most accomplished Iowans in the history of our state," Congressman Latham said. "I stand ready to work with any of Iowa's elected leaders to move this process forward and grant Dr. Borlaug this well-deserved honor."
Latham also is asking the six other members of the Iowa delegation in the U.S. Congress to sign the letter.
The text of the letter is as follows:
The United States Congress had the great honor of hosting a ceremony in July of 2007 to present the late Dr. Norman Borlaug with the nation's highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.
As you know, Dr. Borlaug was also a Nobel Peace Prize and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient for his humanitarian work mounting a global campaign against hunger that saved billions of lives among the world's neediest people through agricultural science.
His landmark discoveries in agriculture led to what is called the "Green Revolution." Dr. Borlaug is a legendary figure within the agricultural community and his name is held in high regard around the world. He was a modest man - born and raised in Cresco, Iowa, and educated in Minnesota - who once said his accomplishments were "a temporary success in man's war against hunger and deprivation."
On July 17, 2007, Dr. Borlaug received the Congressional Gold Medal, making him one of only five people ever to have received the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. The other members of this outstanding group are Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and Elie Wiesel.
Dr. Norman Borlaug is one of our state's most accomplished natives, and one whom generations of the world's people owe a deep gratitude, honor and respect.
We write to you today with the request to work with us to properly honor the memory and distinguished work of this great Iowan.
In 1864 the United States Congress authorized the creation of the National Statuary Hall Collection along with the authorization for each state to provide two statues of notable citizens for display in the United States Capitol. As you may know, Iowa is represented in the collection by Samuel Kirkwood, which was placed in the Capitol in 1913, and James Harlan, which was placed in 1910.
In 2000, the United States Congress approved legislation allowing for the replacement of statues states have provided for display in Statuary Hall should the request by made by an approved resolution adopted by the legislature of the state and the request has been approved by the governor of the state.
We are requesting that you begin the process of considering a resolution in the state legislature to replace one of the two current statues representing the State of Iowa in the U.S. Capitol Building with one honoring Dr. Norman Borlaug.
We stand ready to assist state leaders to help guide this process to accomplish this request.
What Others are Saying: Honoring Dr. Norman Borlaug
The world lost an important scientist and humanitarian over the weekend. Dr. Norman Borlaug, an acclaimed scientist, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and founder of the Green Revolution is remembered not only for his scientific gifts in helping to increase food yields for hunger alleviation but also for mentoring young scientists.
According to his biography on the Nobel Web Site, Borlaug was born on a farm in Cresco, IA in 1914 and was a pragmatic scientist, interested in seeing the fruits of his scientific endeavors bring tangible results to the world particularly in regards to alleviating the world's hunger problem. He founded the World Food Prize which recognizes achievements by individuals who work to alleviate poverty and hunger. Each year, the prize is awarded in Des Moines, IA in mid-October in conjunction with World Food Day on Oct. 16.
Scientists and supporters from around the nation recognize his achievements and humanitarian efforts. If you are a member of the media and would like to speak with any of these scientists about Dr. Borlaug and his influence on their work, please contact Ms. Ariel Gruswitz, email@example.com or 202.962.6672.
"The world will remember Norman Borlaug's for his lifelong dedication to improving the lives of the poor and malnourished. He was a brilliant scientist and great humanitarian who never wavered in his fight for the right of all people to food security. He will be missed." - Dr. Pamela Ronald, Professor of Plant Pathology at the University of California, Davis and co-author of Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics and the Future of Food.
"I join the world in mourning the loss of Norman Borlaug, a man who was not only a great scientist and innovator but also a humble and dedicated humanitarian whose sole purpose was to help others less fortunate than himself. His work has saved billions of lives and we can only hope that the path he has carved out for us will save billions more in the food crisis that looms before us." Dr. Bruce M. Chassy, Professor of Food Sciences and Professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Illinois-Urbana
"Dr. Borlaug was truly an inspirational leader in the ongoing struggle to feed the world. He dedicated his scientific mind and his compassionate heart to the benefit of all mankind. His agricultural technological advances have saved countless lives." Dr. David R. Porter, Prof. Of Agronomy at Oklahoma State University
"I was Dr. Borlaug's host for a talk he gave at the annual meeting of the American Society of Plant Biologists a couple of years back. His impact on the audience - young and old - was incalculable. Not only did he inspire by his accomplishments in the field but also by his dedication and compassion for those that were the target of his efforts. What greater legacy can he leave the plant sciences than to be an inspiration and model for the next generation of agricultural scientists?" Dr. Peggy G. Lemaux, Prof. Of Plant and Microbial Biology at the University of California Berkeley
"The world would not be a pretty place today were it not for Dr. Borlaug's contributions. Today's problems with hunger and habitat destruction are but the tip of the iceberg of what we would have had otherwise. There would have deforestation and habitat loss on an unprecedented scale as a surging population struggled to eke out a living". Dr. Wayne Parrott, Prof. Crop Genetics, University of Georgia - Athens
"The death of Dr. Norman Borlaug takes from us a great scholar and humanitarian whose impact on world food production will likely never be equaled. His plant breeding research to develop high yielding wheat has saved the lives of more people worldwide than any other person that has ever lived. His passing should be a challenge to all crop scientists to renew and focus our efforts to improve the welfare of the world through enhanced plant based food, feed, fiber and fuel production." Dr. Kenneth H. Quesenberry, Prof. Of Agronomy at the University of Florida & 2009 President of the Crop Science Society of America
"Most of us would not even exist without the tremendous research of Dr. Norman Borlaug. His work has been key to improving crop yield and thus saving an incredible number of lives. His legacy remains - we will have to continue to have breakthroughs in plant biology research in order to keep up with the demand created by an ever increasing world population." Dr. Wolf B. Frommer, Prof. of Plant Biology, Director at the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford, CA, USA
"The world is better because of Dr. Borlaug's work. Many more children are alive today, malnutrition has lessened, the future is better for perhaps a billion people." Dean Kleckner, Chairman of Truth About Trade & Technology
"Dr. Norman Borlaug was simply one of the world's best. A determined, dedicated, but humble man who believed we had the collective duty and knowledge to eradicate hunger worldwide. His efforts saved millions of lives and inspired thousands to dedicate their lives to doing the same. The World Food Prize, which he founded, will continue to acknowledge those who carry on the work of providing food to feed the world. Dr. Borlaug will be missed." Sec. Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture
What the Media is Saying:
Washington Post, Staff Writers, 9/14/09 "More than any other single person of this age, he has helped provide bread for a hungry world," the Nobel committee said in honoring him. "Dr. Borlaug has introduced a dynamic factor into our assessment of the future and its potential."
Financial Times, Javier Blas, 9/14/09 Josette Sheeran, head of the United Nations World Food Programme, said he had "saved more lives than any man in human history". "His total devotion to ending famine and hunger revolutionised food security for millions of people."
The New York Times, Justin Gillis, 9/13/09 Gary H. Toenniessen, director of agricultural programs for the Rockefeller Foundation, said in an interview that Dr. Borlaug's great achievement was to prove that intensive, modern agriculture could be made to work in the fast-growing developing countries where it was needed most, even on the small farms predominating there.
By Mr. Toenniessen's calculation, about half the world's population goes to bed every night after consuming grain descended from one of the high-yield varieties developed by Dr. Borlaug and his colleagues of the Green Revolution.
"He knew what it was they needed to do, and he didn't give up," Mr. Toenniessen said. "He could just see that this was the answer."
Associated Press, 9/13/09 U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley said Sunday that Borlaug was "a true son of the Iowa soil." Iowa Gov. Chet Culver called Borlaug, "a true visionary" and U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin says Borlaug's "contributions changed the lives of countless Americans and saved billions around the world."
Former Iowa governor and U.S. Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack called Borlaug a "determined, dedicated, but humble man" and U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack said the scientist "was a native Iowa son who made immeasurable contributions to humankind."
LA Times, Thomas Maugh 9/14/09 On Borlaug's 90th birthday, former President Carter said that he "has been demonstrating practical ways to give people of the entire world a higher quality of life. . . . He is a true humanitarian."
Former South Dakota Sen. George McGovern added that Borlaug's "scientific leadership not only saved people from starvation, but the high-yield seeds he bred saved millions of square miles of wildlife from being plowed down. He is one of the great men of our age."