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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Remembering Norman Borlaug


If Norman Borlaug was the only agriculturalist to win the Nobel Prize, that would be a fitting tribute to such an individual as he was. The farm gate pauses today to pay tribute to Borlaug who passed away Saturday, and was one of those individuals who left the world better than he found it.

Many will remember their first awareness of him in connection with the “Green Revolution” which brought hybrid seeds to the Asian subcontinent to feed the millions who were starving. His efforts were applauded by the Nobel Institute who awarded him its 1970 Peace Prize. Norman Borlaug was a wheat breeder and research director for CIMMYT, (Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maíz y Trigo) more commonly known as the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center. CIMMYT’s tribute to Borlaug salutes his “exemplary life dedicated to fighting hunger in developing countries.”

His high yielding wheat varieties and improved farming practices first helped Mexican farmers in the 1950’s then South Asian farmers in the following decade. Currently, his varieties are produced on 200 million acres around the world. That was made possible by the establishment of 15 international research stations which applied his technology and helped teach local farmers about production improvements.

Borlaug was most recently in the news when he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and earlier had received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest US recognition for a civilian. But he helped establish the World Food Prize in 1986, which has become the Nobel Prize for agriculture. To date, 25 eminent researchers have received the award for their contributions to increasing the quantity, quality, and availability of world food supplies.

Borlaug was the consummate Extension agent, not only researching but teaching. He taught agronomic technology to the impoverished to better feed their families and their neighbors, and he taught elite researchers about the need for their efforts to be applied at ground level. Since his work was in more than 100 nations around the world, he is well known in many of those countries as a hunger fighter. In his Nobel acceptance speech, Norman Borlaug said, “It is true that the tide of the battle against hunger has changed for the better…but ebb tide could soon set in, if we become complacent…”

Borlaug lit a spark in millions of people around the world, not just in helping indigenous farmers feed those nearby villagers in India or Africa, but ignited the desires of many others to carry on his work in places we will never visit, nor ever hear of. Many of their comments are moving tributes to an individual they once met, but that was all it took to launch their careers toward helping feed a hungry world.

At the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A & M University, Borlaug recently noted, "We all eat at least three times a day in privileged nations, and yet we take food for granted. There has been great progress, and food is more equitably distributed. But hunger is commonplace, and famine appears all too often."

Borlaug was an Iowa farm boy who attended the University of Minnesota and received graduate degrees in plant pathology. After World War II he became a researcher for the Cooperative Wheat Research and Production Program, which assisted Mexican farmers with better agricultural practices. That project later evolved into CIMMYT and he began training interns to work in agricultural research, who migrated around the world to carry his spark and message. As a result, Pakistan and India, despite their large populations, are self-sufficient in food.

The passing of Norman Borlaug will leave big shoes to fill, but many of his protégés are working around the world, not only to conduct research into better grain production but also to train indigenous farmers about how to use the technology. The highly decorated, but reserved Borlaug will be remembered as the Father of the Green Revolution.

Posted by Stu Ellis on 09/17 at 01:25 AM | Permalink

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