Access over 20 million homework & study documents
search

Forgotten Benefactor of Humanity Article

Content type

User Generated

Subject

English

Type

Other

Rating

Showing Page:
1/5
Forgotten Benefactor of Humanity
Norman Borlaug, the agronomist whose discoveries sparked the Green Revolution,
has saved literally millions of lives, yet he is hardly a household name.
The Atlantic Monthly
By Gregg Easterbrook
January 1997
AMERICA has three living winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, two universally renowned
and the other so little celebrated that not one person in a hundred would be likely to pick
his face out of a police lineup, or even recognize his name. The universally known
recipients are Elie Wiesel, who for leading an exemplary life has been justly rewarded
with honor and acclaim, and Henry Kissinger, who in the aftermath of his Nobel has
realized wealth and prestige. America's third peace-prize winner, in contrast, has been the
subject of little public notice, and has passed up every opportunity to parley his award
into riches or personal distinction. And the third winner's accomplishments, unlike
Kissinger's, are morally unambiguous. Though barely known in the country of his birth,
elsewhere in the world Norman Borlaug is widely considered to be among the leading
Americans of our age.
Borlaug is an eighty-two-year-old plant breeder who for most of the past five decades has
lived in developing nations, teaching the techniques of high-yield agriculture. He
received the Nobel in 1970, primarily for his work in reversing the food shortages that
haunted India and Pakistan in the 1960s. Perhaps more than anyone else, Borlaug is
responsible for the fact that throughout the postwar era, except in sub-Saharan Africa,
global food production has expanded faster than the human population, averting the mass
starvations that were widely predicted -- for example, in the 1967 best seller Famine --
1975! The form of agriculture that Borlaug preaches may have prevented a billion deaths.
Yet although he has led one of the century's most accomplished lives, and done so in a
meritorious cause, Borlaug has never received much public recognition in the United
States, where it is often said that the young lack heroes to look up to. One reason is that
Borlaug's deeds are done in nations remote from the media spotlight: the Western press
covers tragedy and strife in poor countries, but has little to say about progress there.
Another reason is that Borlaug's mission -- to cause the environment to produce
significantly more food -- has come to be seen, at least by some securely affluent
commentators, as perhaps better left undone. More food sustains human population
growth, which they see as antithetical to the natural world.
The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and the World Bank, once sponsors of his work,
have recently given Borlaug the cold shoulder. Funding institutions have also cut support
for the International Maize and Wheat Center -- located in Mexico and known by its
Spanish acronym, CIMMYT -- where Borlaug helped to develop the high-yield, low-
pesticide dwarf wheat upon which a substantial portion of the world's population now
depends for sustenance. And though Borlaug's achievements are arguably the greatest
that Ford or Rockefeller has ever funded, both foundations have retreated from the last
effort of Borlaug's long life: the attempt to bring high-yield agriculture to Africa.
The African continent is the main place where food production has not kept pace with
population growth: its potential for a Malthusian catastrophe is great. Borlaug's initial

Sign up to view the full document!

lock_open Sign Up
Showing Page:
2/5
efforts in a few African nations have yielded the same rapid increases in food production
as did his initial efforts on the Indian subcontinent in the 1960s. Nevertheless, Western
environmental groups have campaigned against introducing high-yield farming
techniques to Africa, and have persuaded image-sensitive organizations such as the Ford
Foundation and the World Bank to steer clear of Borlaug. So far the only prominent
support for Borlaug's Africa project has come from former President Jimmy Carter, a
humanist and himself a farmer, and from the late mediagenic multimillionaire Japanese
industrialist Ryoichi Sasakawa.
THE LESSON OF THE DUST BOWL
NORMAN BORLAUG was born in Cresco, Iowa, in 1914. Ideas being tested in Iowa
around the time of his boyhood would soon transform the American Midwest into "the
world's breadbasket," not only annually increasing total production -- so methodically
that the increases were soon taken for granted -- but annually improving yield, growing
more bushels of grain from the same amount of land or less. From about 1950 until the
1980s midwestern farmers improved yields by around three percent a year, more than
doubling the overall yield through the period. This feat of expansion was so spectacular
that some pessimists declared it was a special case that could never be repeated. But it
has been done again, since around 1970, in China.
Entering college as the Depression began, Borlaug worked for a time in the Northeastern
Forestry Service, often with men from the Civilian Conservation Corps, occasionally
dropping out of school to earn money to finish his degree in forest management. He
passed the civil-service exam and was accepted into the Forest Service, but the job fell
through. He then began to pursue a graduate degree in plant pathology. During his studies
he did a research project on the movement of spores of rust, a class of fungus that plagues
many crops. The project, undertaken when the existence of the jet stream was not yet
known, established that rust-spore clouds move internationally in sync with harvest
cycles -- a surprising finding at the time. The process opened Borlaug's eyes to the
magnitude of the world beyond Iowa's borders.
At the same time, the Midwest was becoming the Dust Bowl. Though some mythology
now attributes the Dust Bowl to a conversion to technological farming methods, in
Borlaug's mind the problem was the lack of such methods. Since then American farming
has become far more technological, and no Dust Bowl conditions have recurred. In the
summer of 1988 the Dakotas had a drought as bad as that in the Dust Bowl, but clouds of
soil were rare because few crops failed. Borlaug was horrified by the Dust Bowl and
simultaneously impressed that its effects seemed least where high-yield approaches to
farming were being tried. He decided that his life's work would be to spread the benefits
of high-yield farming to the many nations where crop failures as awful as those in the
Dust Bowl were regular facts of life.
In 1943 the Rockefeller Foundation established the precursor to CIMMYT to assist the
poor farmers of Mexico, doing so at the behest of the former Secretary of Agriculture
Henry Wallace, of the Pioneer Hi-Bred seed company family, who had been unable to
extract any money from Congress for agricultural aid to Mexico. Soon Borlaug was in
Mexico as the director of the wheat program -- a job for which there was little
competition, backwater Mexico in the 1940s not being an eagerly sought-after posting.
Except for brief intervals, he has lived in the developing world since.
The program's initial goal was to teach Mexican farmers new farming ideas, but Borlaug
soon had the institution seeking agricultural innovations. One was "shuttle breeding," a
technique for speeding up the movement of disease immunity between strains of crops.

Sign up to view the full document!

lock_open Sign Up
Showing Page:
3/5

Sign up to view the full document!

lock_open Sign Up

Unformatted Attachment Preview

Forgotten Benefactor of Humanity Norman Borlaug, the agronomist whose discoveries sparked the Green Revolution, has saved literally millions of lives, yet he is hardly a household name. The Atlantic Monthly By Gregg Easterbrook January 1997 AMERICA has three living winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, two universally renowned and the other so little celebrated that not one person in a hundred would be likely to pick his face out of a police lineup, or even recognize his name. The universally known recipients are Elie Wiesel, who for leading an exemplary life has been justly rewarded with honor and acclaim, and Henry Kissinger, who in the aftermath of his Nobel has realized wealth and prestige. America's third peace-prize winner, in contrast, has been the subject of little public notice, and has passed up every opportunity to parley his award into riches or personal distinction. And the third winner's accomplishments, unlike Kissinger's, are morally unambiguous. Though barely known in the country of his birth, elsewhere in the world Norman Borlaug is widely considered to be among the leading Americans of our age. Borlaug is an eighty-two-year-old plant breeder who for most of the past five decades has lived in developing nations, teaching the techniques of high-yield agriculture. He received the Nobel in 1970, primarily for his work in reversing the food shortages that haunted India and Pakistan in the 1960s. Perhaps more than anyone else, Borlaug is responsible for the fact that ...
Purchase document to see full attachment
User generated content is uploaded by users for the purposes of learning and should be used following Studypool's honor code & terms of service.

Anonymous
Just the thing I needed, saved me a lot of time.

Studypool
4.7
Trustpilot
4.5
Sitejabber
4.4