Norman Borlaug 1914-2009

By Staley, Louise | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, December 2009 | Go to article overview
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Norman Borlaug 1914-2009


Staley, Louise, Review - Institute of Public Affairs


In rural Mexico there is a common saying that four factors caused the green revolution - seeds, water, fertiliser, and Borlaug. The Borlaug in question is Norman Borlaug, a plant geneticist who led the work that resulted in Mexico, India and then Pakistan being transformed from net food importers with millions of starving people, to being self-sufficient in food. Norman Borlaug is widely credited as saving at least 450 million lives and perhaps as many as a billion people. For this, he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.

Norman Borlaug died, aged 95, in September 2009. He was that rare combination of persistent scientist and public policy advocate. Dr Borlaug spent years in the sun in Mexico in the 1940s, personally develo ping high-yield wheat by manually crossing thousands of wheat plants to develop new varieties resistant to disease and able to use large amounts of fertiliser. In the 1960s he took the same techniques to India and Pakistan. He was always a practical scientist - even the day before he died he urged researchers to take their work 'to the farmers, get it to the farmers.' He also recognised the political power of his work. As he said in 2007, 'hunger and poverty and misery are very fertile soils into which to plant all kinds of "isms," including terrorism.

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