“Unknown hero” Norman Borlaug dies

Peter Cresswell's picture
Submitted by Peter Cresswell on Mon, 2009-09-14 02:59

"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

borlaug-young 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:

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.

MINDY: You're welcome,

Peter Cresswell's picture

MINDY: You're welcome, Mindy. The real Atlases hardly ever get any credit, do they. Smiling

MARCUS: Even more reason for the mainstream media down here to have overlooked his passing, even after I'd provided them with plenty of information to do so.

Liberty Scott tells me however that the BBC delivered a very respectful obituary.

He was also a Global Warming sceptic...

Marcus's picture

...according to Climate Depot. Another reason his death will go relatively unoticed compared to Ted Kennedy.

Don't expect Obama to shed any tears at his passing.

...Borlaug was also a man-made global warming skeptic who was featured in the U.S. Senate Report of more than 700 dissenting scientists. Borlaug is featured on page 116 of March 2009 U.S. Senate Report of More Than 700 Dissenting Scientists on Man-Made Global Warming.

Dr. Borlaug's entry in the U.S. Senate report is reproduced below:

Renowned agricultural scientist Dr. Norman Borlaug, known as the father of the "Green Revolution" for saving over a billion people from starvation by utilizing pioneering high yield farming techniques, is one of only five people in history who has been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom ,and the Congressional Gold Medal. Borlaug also declared himself skeptical of man-made climate fears in 2007. "I do believe we are in a period where, no question, the temperatures are going up. But is this a part of another one of those (natural) cycles that have brought on glaciers and caused melting of glaciers?" Borlaug asked, according to a September 21, 2007 article in Saint Paul Pioneer Press. The article reported that Borlaug is "not sure, and he doesn't think the science is, either." Borlaug added, "How much would we have to cut back to take the increasing carbon dioxide and methane production to a level so that it's not a driving force?" We don't even know how much."


Thanks for this!!

Ptgymatic's picture

I had never heard of him either. I'll write an op-ed piece for local papers on this. Great piece of news, with perfect relevance to the moment.


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