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The Man Who Saved a Billion People

Norman Borlaug, an American hero, died this past Saturday at the age of 95. The Wall Street Journal has an article giving some light on his illustrious and incredible life:

Born in 1914 in rural Cresco, Iowa, where he was educated in a one-room schoolhouse, Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work ending the India-Pakistan food shortage of the mid-1960s. He spent most of his life in impoverished nations, patiently teaching poor farmers in India, Mexico, South America, Africa and elsewhere the Green Revolution agricultural techniques that have prevented the global famines widely predicted when the world population began to skyrocket following World War II.

In 1999, the Atlantic Monthly estimated that Borlaug’s efforts combined with those of the many developing-world agriculture-extension agents he trained and the crop-research facilities he founded in poor nations saved the lives of one billion human beings.

Borlaug was the father of the Green Revolution, which was an effort to increase efficiency in agricultural output:

As a young agronomist, Borlaug helped develop some of the principles of Green Revolution agriculture on which the world now relies including hybrid crops selectively bred for vigor, and “shuttle breeding,” a technique for accelerating the movement of disease immunity between strains of crops. He also helped develop cereals that were insensitive to the number of hours of light in a day, and could therefore be grown in many climates.

Green Revolution techniques caused both reliable harvests, and spectacular output. From the Civil War through the Dust Bowl, the typical American farm produced about 24 bushels of corn per acre; by 2006, the figure was about 155 bushels per acre.

The Chicago Tribune also has a piece on Borlaug, stating:

This brilliant, altruistic and luminous humanitarian bred and cultivated enough wheat, rice and other grains to feed nearly a billion hungry people. He did so in an environmentally conscious manner as a means to protect myriad wildlife species and nature habitats from being decimated.

Norman Borlaug is a forgotten icon who should be forever recognized as an international hero who saved millions of human lives.

After saving millions and millions of lives, Borlaug retired and taught agronomy at Texas A&M, always encouraging his students to live in the developing world and help those who are less fortunate. He is an American hero who should be remembered and revered.

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4 Responses to The Man Who Saved a Billion People

  1. Or maybe more than a billion, Clive?

    Many people who live in technologically advanced societies do not realize how much violence against women in many poor societies is driven by food shortages. Including female infanticide, dowry burns, widow burnings, etc.

    When anyone, male or female, can get a paying job and buy lots of food, prejudice against females tends to wane. It just doesn’t matter that much whether your family added a boy or a girl, because either sex can get a job in a technologically advanced society.

    Maybe not the same job, but a job that buys food. So … ?

    Of course, we then get issues around obesity, but that’s choice, not desperation.

    Investor tip: Invest in health clubs in nations where health gurus are screaming about excess fatness.

  2. A truly great man. Thank you for posting this.

  3. I wonder what he thought of ethanol fuels with a world still starving?

  4. Not everyone thought Borlaug was a great man and there were organized efforts to curtail his activities by the environmentalists. I had read this story about his achievements over 10 years ago and to me it is indicative how some think in this world. I would often ask people “who living today saved more people than anyone else.” No one knew him even after I told them the answer.

    Here is a link to the 1997 story in the Atalntic “Forgotten Benefactor of Humanity” and a short excerpt from it. It is a very good article.

    “http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/97jan/borlaug/borlaug.htm”

    “Yet although he has led one of the century’s most accomplished lives, and done so in a meritorious cause, Borlaug has never received much public recognition in the United States, where it is often said that the young lack heroes to look up to. One reason is that Borlaug’s deeds are done in nations remote from the media spotlight: the Western press covers tragedy and strife in poor countries, but has little to say about progress there. Another reason is that Borlaug’s mission — to cause the environment to produce significantly more food — has come to be seen, at least by some securely affluent commentators, as perhaps better left undone. More food sustains human population growth, which they see as antithetical to the natural world.

    The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and the World Bank, once sponsors of his work, have recently given Borlaug the cold shoulder. Funding institutions have also cut support for the International Maize and Wheat Center — located in Mexico and known by its Spanish acronym, CIMMYT — where Borlaug helped to develop the high-yield, low-pesticide dwarf wheat upon which a substantial portion of the world’s population now depends for sustenance. And though Borlaug’s achievements are arguably the greatest that Ford or Rockefeller has ever funded, both foundations have retreated from the last effort of Borlaug’s long life: the attempt to bring high-yield agriculture to Africa.”

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