The 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.