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Father of the True Green Revolution

18 Sep

Norman Borlaug died at age 95 of cancer complications this past weekend.

He was the living scientist I most admired.

From a WSJ article:

“Norman Borlaug arguably the greatest American of the 20th century died late Saturday after 95 richly accomplished years. The very personification of human goodness, Borlaug saved more lives than anyone who has ever lived. He was America’s Albert Schweitzer: a brilliant man who forsook privilege and riches in order to help the dispossessed of distant lands. That this great man and benefactor to humanity died little-known in his own country speaks volumes about the superficiality of modern American culture.”

Due to Borlaug, my 70’s undergraduate classes in international agriculture were full of hope on the one hand, because his pioneering research in plant breeding led to underdeveloped nations being able to feed their growing populations instead of suffering mass starvation,  and cynicism on the other, since shorter plant stems and use of chemical inputs brought their own problems.

But as he is quoted in the WSJ: “Trendy environmentalism was catching on, and affluent environmentalists began to say it was “inappropriate” for Africans to have tractors or use modern farming techniques. Borlaug told me 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. 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 fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists in wealthy nations were trying to deny them these things.”

In July he had written an editorial to the Wall Street Journal.  An excerpt:

“Even here at home, some elements of popular culture romanticize older, inefficient production methods and shun fertilizers and pesticides, arguing that the U.S. should revert to producing only local organic food. People should be able to purchase organic food if they have the will and financial means to do so, but not at the expense of the world’s hungry—25,000 of whom die each day from malnutrition.”

The WSJ obituary and  this article are best at describing who the man was.

Norman Borlaug on Why Famines still exist.  Hint: it is not because there is too little food.

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