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Norman Borlaug
On the day Norman Borlaug was awarded its Peace Prize for 1970, the NobelCommittee observed of the Iowa-born plant scientist that "more than anyother single person of this age, he has helped provide bread for ahungry world." The committee might have added that more than any othersingle person Borlaug showed that nature is no match for humaningenuity in setting the real limits to growth.
Borlaug, who died Saturday at 95, came of age in the GreatDepression, the last period of widespread hunger in U.S. history. TheDepression was over by the time Borlaug began his famous experiments,funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, with wheat varieties in Mexico inthe 1940s. But the specter of global starvation loomed even larger, asadvances in medicine and hygiene contributed to population growthwithout corresponding increases in the means of feeding so many.
Borlaug solved that challenge by developing genetically uniquestrains of "semidwarf" wheat, and later rice, that raised food yieldsas much as sixfold. The result was that a country like India was ableto feed its own people as its population grew from 500 million in themid-1960s, when Borlaug's "Green Revolution" began to take effect, tothe current 1.16 billion. Today, famines-whether in Zimbabwe, Darfur orNorth Korea-are politically induced events, not true natural disasters.
In later life, Borlaug was criticizedby self-described "greens" whose hostility to technology put themathwart the revolution he had set in motion. Borlaug fired back,warning in these pages that fear-mongering by environmental extremistsagainst synthetic pesticides, inorganic fertilizers and geneticallymodified foods would again put millions at risk of starvation whiledamaging the very biodiversity those extremists claimed to protect. Insaving so many, Borlaug showed that a genuine green movement doesn'tpit man against the Earth, but rather applies human intelligence toexploit the Earth's resources to improve life for everyone.