He Fed the World

September 14, 2009

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Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution, died this past weekend at the age of 95. I had written about him not to long ago, and now he’s gone, one of the greatest  – and virtually unknown – benefactors of humanity.

My headline isn’t hyperbole, it’s fact. Borlaug is singlehandedly responsible for preventing mass famines in India and Pakistan in the late ’60s. Even now, every day, at least a third of the world’s population goes to sleep each night having eaten a meal that contains rice or wheat grown from one of his engineered strains.

And that word – engineered – is the important one. The dwarf what strains he developed in Mexico were the result of careful, painstaking work. He often spent days in the fields, cross-pollinating wheat plants by hand. I am certain that if modern genetic tools were available to him back then, Borlaug would have been using gene guns to accelerate the production of plants with the characteristics he sought, saving years in the process.

Because, no matter how many political conflicts he was drawn into, and no mater how fashionable or unpopular his opinions and methods might have been, at the end of the day he achieved what he set out to do: He eliminated hunger for much of the world.

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