Fbae Logo
Home | | Support Us | Contact Us
Goals & Objectives Our Position False Propaganda Special Topics Important Publications Important Links Events news Biosafety
Fbae Header Home




Norman Borlaug: The Man Who Saved More Human Lives Than Any Other Has Died
- Ronald Bailey | September 13, 2009
NormanBorlaug, the man who saved more human lives than anyone else inhistory, has died at age 95. Borlaug was the Father of the GreenRevolution, the dramatic improvement in agricultural productivity thatswept the globe in the 1960s. For spearheading this achievement, he wasawarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. One of the great privileges ofmy life was meeting and talking with Borlaug many times over the pastfew years. In remembrance, I cite the introduction to Reason's 2000 interview with Borlaug below:
Borlaug grew up on a small farm in Iowa and graduated from theUniversity of Minnesota, where he studied forestry and plant pathology,in the 1930s. In 1944, the Rockefeller Foundation invited him to workon a project to boost wheat production in Mexico. At the time Mexicowas importing a good share of its grain. Borlaug and his staff inMexico spent nearly 20 years breeding the high-yield dwarf wheat thatsparked the Green Revolution, the transformation that forestalled themass starvation predicted by neo-Malthusians.
In the late1960s, most experts were speaking of imminent global famines in whichbillions would perish. "The battle to feed all of humanity is over,"biologist Paul Ehrlich famously wrote in his 1968 bestseller ThePopulation Bomb. "In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of peoplewill starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now."Ehrlich also said, "I have yet to meet anyone familiar with thesituation who thinks India will be self-sufficient in food by 1971." Heinsisted that "India couldn't possibly feed two hundred million morepeople by 1980."
But Borlaug and his team were alreadyengaged in the kind of crash program that Ehrlich declared wouldn'twork. Their dwarf wheat varieties resisted a wide spectrum of plantpests and diseases and produced two to three times more grain than thetraditional varieties. In 1965, they had begun a massive campaign toship the miracle wheat to Pakistan and India and teach local farmershow to cultivate it properly. By 1968, when Ehrlich's book appeared,the U.S. Agency for International Development had already hailedBorlaug's achievement as a "Green Revolution."
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 theyields continue to increase. Last year, India harvested a record 73.5million tons of wheat, up 11.5 percent from 1998. Since Ehrlich's direpredictions in 1968, India's population has more than doubled, itswheat production has more than tripled, and its economy has grownnine-fold. Soon after Borlaug's success with wheat, his colleagues atthe Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research developedhigh-yield rice varieties that quickly spread the Green Revolutionthrough most of Asia.
Contrary to Ehrlich's boldpronouncements, hundreds of millions didn't die in massive famines.India fed far more than 200 million more people, and it was closeenough to self-sufficiency in food production by 1971 that Ehrlichdiscreetly omitted his prediction about that from later editions of ThePopulation Bomb. The last four decades have seen a "progress explosion"that has handily outmatched any "population explosion."
Borlaug, who unfortunately is far less well-known than doom-sayerEhrlich, is responsible for much of the progress humanity has madeagainst hunger. Despite occasional local famines caused by armedconflicts or political mischief, food is more abundant and cheapertoday than ever before in history, due in large part to the work ofBorlaug and his colleagues.
More than 30 years ago, Borlaugwrote, "One of the greatest threats to mankind today is that the worldmay be choked by an explosively pervading but well camouflagedbureaucracy." As REASON's interview with him shows, he still believesthat environmental activists and their allies in international agenciesare a threat to progress on global food security. Barring suchinterference, he is confident that agricultural research, includingbiotechnology, will be able to boost crop production to meet the demandfor food in a world of 8 billion or so, the projected population in2025.
Meanwhile, media darlings like Worldwatch Institutefounder Lester Brown keep up their drumbeat of doom. In 1981 Browndeclared, "The period of global food security is over." In 1994, hewrote, "The world's farmers can no longer be counted on to feed theprojected additions to our numbers." And as recently as 1997 he warned,"Food scarcity will be the defining issue of the new era now unfolding,much as ideological conflict was the defining issue of the historicalera that recently ended."
Borlaug, by contrast, does not justwring his hands. He still works to get modern agricultural technologyinto the hands of hungry farmers in the developing world. Today, he isa consultant to the International Maize and Wheat Center in Mexico andpresident of the Sasakawa Africa Association, a private Japanesefoundation working to spread the Green Revolution to sub-Saharan Africa.
Borlaug's [ http://www.opinionjournal.com/la/?id=110008897 ]achievements were not confined to the laboratory and fields:
Heinsisted that governments pay poor farmers world prices for theirgrain. At the time, many developing nations--eager to supply cheap foodto their urban citizens, who might otherwise rebel--required theirfarmers to sell into a government concession that paid them less thanhalf of the world market price for their agricultural products. Theresult, predictably, was hoarding and underproduction. Using hishard-won prestige as a kind of platform, Mr. Borlaug persuaded thegovernments of Pakistan and India to drop such self-defeating policies.
Fairprices and high doses of fertilizer, combined with new grains, changedeverything. By 1968 Pakistan was self-sufficient in wheat, and by 1974India was self-sufficient in all cereals. And the revolution didn'tstop there. Researchers at a research institute in the Philippines usedMr. Borlaug's insights to develop high-yield rice and spread the GreenRevolution to most of Asia. As with wheat, so with rice: Short-stalkedvarieties proved more productive. They devoted relatively more energyto making grain and less to making leaves and stalks. And they weresturdier, remaining harvestable when traditional varieties--with heavygrain heads and long, slender stalks--had collapsed to the ground andbegun to rot.

Let us mourn the death of this truly great man.