Norman E. Borlaug, a world-renowned American botanist, died this past Saturday at his home in Dallas from complications due to cancer. Borlaug, who was 95, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for starting the “Green Revolution” that dramatically increased food production in developing nations and saved countless people from starvation [Washington Post]. Borlaug pioneered high-yield agricultural techniques, using cross-bred crops and nitrogen fertilizers, which helped India, Mexico, and other nations combat hunger and become self-sufficient producers of grains.
“Civilization as it is known today could not have evolved, nor can it survive, without an adequate food supply,” said Borlaug during his Nobel Lecture in 1970. “Yet food is something that is taken for granted by most world leaders despite the fact that more than half of the population of the world is hungry. Man seems to insist on ignoring the lessons available from history.”
Borlaug’s thoughts on the barriers that exist to solving world hunger became increasingly unpopular. The Green Revolution eventually came under attack from environmental and social critics who said it had created more difficulties than it had solved. Dr. Borlaug responded that the real problem was not his agricultural techniques, but the runaway population growth that had made them necessary. “If the world population continues to increase at the same rate, we will destroy the species,” he declared [The New York Times].
By crossing different strains of wheat, Borlaug was able to engineer disease-resistant varieties that can grow in many different climates and produce incredible yields. Borlaug created “semidwarf” plants that were sturdy enough to support the large wheat heads that result after applying nitrogen-based fertilizer. His work is credited with averting global famine during the second half of the 20th century and saving perhaps 1 billion lives [Huffington Post].
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