Magazine article The Humanist

Norman Borlaug (1914-2009)

Magazine article The Humanist

Norman Borlaug (1914-2009)

Article excerpt


"If you desire peace, cultivate justice, but at the same time cultivate the fields to produce more bread."

--Norman Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize lecture, December 11, 1970

Nobel laureate and acclaimed "father of the Green Revolution" Norma Borlaug was born on his grandparents' farm in Iowa in 1914 where he also worked from the age of seven to nineteen years old. At the one-room schoolhouse he attended, Lutheran Norwegian children would stand alongside Czech Catholic children in singing the "Iowa Corn Song,' which solidified the immigrants' new identities as Iowans. It was in his hometown that Borlaug witnessed the unification that farming towards a common goal brought among differing groups of people.

He left the farm in 1933 when a Depression-era program gave him the means to obtain a college education from the University of Minnesota; however his roots in the farm never left him. Borlaug received a BS degree in forestry in 1937, and then both a master's and his PhD in plant pathology and genetics, all from the University of Minnesota.

Borlaug took a job as a leader in the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935. It was one among numerous positions he held while completing his education, but one that had a lasting impact. The starving, unemployed men who worked with him on the federal projects left a strong impression. "I saw how the food changed them," he said. "All of this left scars on me."

In 1944 Borlaug left his pregnant wife and infant daughter behind and ventured to Mexico to direct and organize the Cooperative Wheat Research and Production Program as a geneticist and plant pathologist. His daughter would later say that he was rarely at home to see his family except for on holidays and special occasions.

The program was a combined effort of the Mexican government and the Rockefeller Foundation which, after twenty years of research, successfully produced a high-yielding, disease-resistant strain of wheat that has been extensively and successfully produced in numerous developing nations as a major effort towards combating the ever-present reality of world hunger. …

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