“Unknown hero” Norman Borlaug dies [updated]
"He was a bright, affirming flame in the midst of a sea of despair then prevailing."
………………………………- M.S. Swaminathan, known as the "Father of the Green Revolution in India"
"Some credit him with saving more human lives than any other person in history."
- Bruce Alberts, President, National Academy of Sciences, U.S.
"Dr. Norman Borlaug is the first person in history to save a billion human lives. But he must also get credit for saving the wild creatures and diverse plant species on 12 million square miles of global forest that would long since have been plowed down without the high-yield farming he pioneered. The two accomplishments combined make him dramatically unique.”
- Senator Rudy Boschwitz, former member of the US Senate Agriculture Committee
"Dr. Norman Borlaug was the father of the Green Revolution that transformed much of the hungry Third World. . . [I]n the 1960s . . . 4 million tons of food aid per year [was shipped] to India; now it can export food. Dr. Borlaug’s scientific leadership . . . saved people from starvation. . He is one of the great men of our age."
- George McGovern, former Democratic presidential candidate
If feeding the planet is your goal then your hero should not be Sting or Bob Geldof or Thomas Malthus or Jeanette Fitzsimons or (heaven help us) Che Guevara. Even George McGovern can recognise that much. It should be that man in the picture there on the left: agricultural hero Norman Borlaug, who died on Saturday at his home in Dallas, Texas, at the age of 95.
Known around the world as the father of the real Green Revolution, despite viewing it himself as “a miserable term,” Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work to stop world hunger, for which no one did more. Penn Jillette reckoned a few years back that Norman Borlaug was then the greatest living human being. Why?
"At a time when doom-sayers were hopping around saying everyone was going to starve, Norman was working. He moved to Mexico and lived among the people there until he figured out how to improve the output of the farmers. So that saved a million lives. Then he packed up his family and moved to India, where in spite of a war with Pakistan, he managed to introduce new wheat strains that quadrupled their food output. So that saved another million. You get it? But he wasn't done. He did the same thing with a new rice in China. He's doing the same thing in Africa - as much of Africa as he's allowed to visit. When he won the Nobel Prize in 1970, they said he had saved a billion people. That's BILLION! BUH! That's Carl Sagan BILLION with a "B"! And most of them were a different race from him. Norman is the greatest human being- and you've probably never heard of him."
So why so unheralded? Says Don Boudreaux:
“By saving millions of people from starvation, green-revolution father Norman Borlaug arguably has done more for humanity than has any other human being of the past century. Yet unlike Sen. Kennedy’s, his death will go relatively unnoticed. He’ll certainly not be canonized in the popular mind.
“Alas, in our world, melodramatic loud-mouths thunder to and fro in the foreground, doing little of any value while stealing most of the credit for civilization. Meanwhile, in the background, millions upon millions of decent, creative people work diligently at their specialties – welding, waiting tables, performing orthopedic surgery, designing shopping malls, researching plant genetics – each contributing to the prosperity of the rest. Some contributions are larger than others (as Dr. Borlaug’s certainly was), but even a contribution as colossal as his is quickly taken for granted, any notice of it submerged beneath the self-congratulation, swagger, and bellicosity of the politicians who pretend to be prosperity’s source. How wrong.”
Sure as hell is. The men of the mind achieve their heroism unnoticed, while their moochers and looters hof the headlines that should have been theirs’.
For a sober career assessment of Borlaug’s under-the-radar great work, read the Voice of America’s tribute:
“[Norman Borlaug’s] effort to increase crop yields has been credited with saving millions of people from starvation. . . His advocacy of intensive, high-yield agriculture came under criticism from environmentalists in recent years, but Borlaug and those who followed his lead argued that older methods of sustainable farming could not produce enough food to prevent hunger in poorer regions of the world. . . [Borlaug, of course, has been proved right over and over again.]
“In 1944, when many experts warned of mass starvation in developing nations where populations were expanding faster than crop production, Borlaug began work at a Rockefeller Foundation-funded project in Mexico to increase wheat production by developing higher-yielding varieties of the crop. By 1957, the average yield per hectare of Mexican wheat had almost doubled.
“Borlaug remained involved with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico, even after his research took him to other parts of the globe, where he replicated the success he had had in Mexico, building his reputation as father of the "green revolution" in the 1960's. . .
“In a statement Saturday through Texas A and M University [where he was still teaching], Borlaug's children said ‘It is the hope of the Borlaug family that his life be an example to all. We would like his life be a model for making a difference in the lives of others and to bring about efforts to end human misery for all mankind’.”
A vain hope perhaps, when arseholes still fight the introduction of new biotechnologies to increase food production, and those same empty-headed misathropic control freaks still deny the murderous effect of the ban on DDT – a ban which has killed millions, and still kills around 3,000 people every day!
Anyway, check out these tributes to the great man from those who have remembered him:
- Recalling the work of the greatest hunger-fighter for all time
- R. Sujatha, The HIndu http://www.hindu.com/2009/09/14/stories/2009091458231100.htm
- Nobel laureate, Iowa native Borlaug dies
- Justin Gillis, The New York Times
- Norman Borlaug: The man who fed the world.
Wall Street Journal
- Norman Borlaug: The Man Who Saved More Human Lives Than Any Other Has Died
- Agriculture pioneer Borlaug dies
- Norman Borlaug dies at 95; started 'Green Revolution' and won Nobel Peace Prize
- And from his colleagues at the International Maize & Wheat Improvement Center, this beautiful tribute:
Farewell to Norman Borlaug: World loses its leading hunger fighter.
And finally, Listen to "The Norman Borlaug Rap" ‘sung’ by Rohan Prakash in honor of Dr. Borlaug's 90th Birthday., and check out Penn & Teller’s colourful tribute to Norman Borlaug on their Bullshit! TV show.
And check out the Norman Borlaug archive at AgBioWorld.
As the tributes say, this was a man whose work saved more human lives than any other. In a rational world this hero would not be unknown -- and his passing now should not go unnoticed.
PS: By the way, the ‘Ethics’ tag below is no accident. It shouldn’t take a genius to work out why.
PPS: My thanks to the great folk at AgBioWorld for the links, most of which come from their latest newsletter.
Nobel winner credited with saving 1 billion lives, dies
Scientist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug has died aged 95, known as the father of the "green revolution", he helped lead a movement that is credited with saving up to 1 billion people from starvation.