Acton Institute Powerblog

Remembering the World’s Most Important Farmer

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BorlaugThe world’s most important farmer was born 102 years ago today.

The late Norman Borlaug worked on his family’s Iowa farm from the time he was 7 and attended a one-room schoolhouse through eighth grade. Graduating high school during the Great Depression, he received a scholarship to the University of Minnesota, where he studied forestry. In graduate school he switched to the study of plant pathology  — a decision that would lead to a Nobel Prize and the saving of over a billion lives. As Gregg Easterbrook said, Borlaug was the man who defused the ‘population bomb.’

And as James Wanliss writes at The Stream, there is no greater hero of the last century than Norman Borlaug:

It is arguable that he saved over a billion people. He is one of just a handful of people to have won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. He was also awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian honor.


Borlaug’s work ignited the “Green Revolution,” leading to development of hybrid grains capable of handling varying climates and prevailing diseases, all while increasing crop yields over 700 percent compared to yields from agricultural techniques of 90 years ago.

Borlaug’s high-yield agricultural know-how prevented massive global deforestation as desperate people needed less land for food. Also, population growth dropped in every developing nation which applied his techniques, and education gained importance relative to muscle capacity.

One might be pardoned for imagining environmentalists would be grateful. Borlaug faced nothing but insults and criticisms for his efforts. Now more than ever in the affluent West there are efforts to demonize Borlaug’s methods in favor of so-called “organic” farming.

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • Steve Vinzinski

    Very very good article Joe in all honesty I grew up as a farmer and I never heard of this man.His name never was discussed by the brokers at the block.Norman Borlaug we owe you an awful lot for your generous and Christian contribution to mankind.My goodness a Nobel peace prize how out standing.Increased growth of food 700% saved millions of acres of land.The pragmatism here is you can not satisfy individuals who benefited the most.A very nice article Mr.Carter have a nice Easter.