Norman E. Borlaug 1914-2009
Norman E. Borlaug; U.S. Scientist Launched Green Revolution
Monday, September 14, 2009
Norman E. Borlaug, 95, an American plant pathologist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for starting the "Green Revolution" that dramatically increased food production in developing nations and saved countless people from starvation, died Saturday at his home in Dallas.
"More than any other single person of this age, he has helped provide bread for a hungry world," the Nobel committee said in honoring him. "Dr. Borlaug has introduced a dynamic factor into our assessment of the future and its potential."
Edwin Price, director of the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M University, said his mentor died of cancer. Since 1984, Dr. Borlaug had been a distinguished professor of international agriculture there.
Dr. Borlaug was barely known in the country of his birth. But in India, Mexico and other nations susceptible to hunger and famine, he was known as one of the great Americans of modern times. Price accompanied Dr. Borlaug to Russia, where he visited a wheat research institute south of Moscow. "When Norm came in," Price said, "the scientists at the institute all cried."
From the 1970s until his death, he increasingly took the politically incorrect view that environmentalists were hampering world food production by indiscriminately attacking the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
"They claim that the consumer is being poisoned out of existence by the current high-yielding systems of agricultural production and recommend we revert back to lower-yielding, so-called sustainable technologies," he said in a speech in New Orleans in 1993.
Unfortunately, he said, it is not possible to turn the clock back to the 1930s, when the population of the world was 2.2 billion. It was estimated at 5.6 billion in 1995 and was projected to rise to 8.3 billion by 2025.
Dr. Borlaug's career was defined on the one hand by the ability of science to increase food production at an exponential rate and on the other by the Malthusian nightmare of an exploding population outstripping its ability to feed itself. His work took him from the Iowa farm where he grew up to the primitively cultivated wheat fields of Mexico in the 1940s, the rice paddies of Asia in the 1960s and 1970s and to the savannas of Africa in the 1980s.
In his lecture accepting the Nobel Prize, he said an adequate supply of food is "the first component of social justice. . . . Otherwise there will be no peace."
He warned that the world could wind up with too many mouths to feed, and he offered only guarded hope that "since man is potentially a rational being . . . he will recognize the self-destructive course he steers along the road of irresponsible population growth and will adjust the growth rate to levels which will permit a decent standard of living for all mankind."
Norman Ernest Borlaug, the son of Norwegian immigrants, was born on March 25, 1914, in his grandfather's farmhouse near a settlement called Saude, in northeastern Iowa. He went to high school in the nearby town of Cresco, and one of his teachers, Harry Shroeder, noticed his interest in the way things grow and encouraged him to study agriculture.
He was deeply affected by the ravages of the Great Depression on the American Midwest. "He often said that his dedication to solving issues of world hunger grew out of the bread lines and the suffering of the people that he saw during the Depression," Price said. "He saw the tension, and he recognized that hunger could cause people to behave violently."