Norman Borlaug has been described by Gregg Easterbrook in the Wall Street Journal (September 15) as “America’s Albert Schweitzer”, arguably having “saved more lives than anyone who has ever lived”.
Born in 1914, “he spent most of his life in impoverished nations, patiently teaching poor farmers in India, Mexico, South America, Africa and elsewhere the Green Revolution agricultural techniques that have prevented the global famines widely predicted when the world population began to skyrocket following World War II”.
In 1943, Borlaug began work in rural Mexico to establish an agricultural research station, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. His research produced new high-yield, low-pesticide “dwarf” wheat which forms a substantial portion of the wheat that today sustains the world’s population. This was the beginning of the “green revolution”, on which world agriculture now depends.
Borlaug began his work in earnest in 1950, when the world produced 692 million tons of grain for 2.2 billion people.
Explains Easterbrook: “By 1992, with Borlaug’s concepts common, production was 1.9 billion tons of grain for 5.6 billion men and women: 2.8 times the food for 2.2 times the people. Global grain yields more than doubled during the period, from half a ton per acre to 1.1 tons; yields of rice and other foodstuffs improved similarly.
“Hunger declined in sync: From 1965 to 2005, global per capita food consumption rose to 2,798 calories daily from 2,063, with most of the increase in developing nations.
“In 2006, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization declared that malnutrition stands â€˜at the lowest level in human history’, despite the global population having trebled in a single century.”
In the mid-1960s, Borlaug created an agricultural revolution in Pakistan and India, for which he was awarded the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for developing high-yielding, disease-resistant wheat used to prevent famine in developing countries throughout the world.
Borlaug was critical of the Western affluent environmentalists who argued that it was “inappropriate” for Africans to use modern farming equipment and techniques.
Easterbrook recalls Borlaug telling him a decade ago that most Western environmentalists “have never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels.”
Borlaug continued: “If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for 50 years, they’d be crying out for tractors and fertiliser and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists in wealthy nations were trying to deny them these things.”
Norman Borlaug was revered in the developing world, yet was hardly known in his native United States.
Gregg Easterbrook, “The man who defused the ‘population bomb'”, The Wall Street Journal, September 15, 2009.