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From the Globe and Mail Blogs by Andrew Steele…
The death of the greatest human being who ever lived
by Andrew Steele
Norman Borlaug is dead.
That probably means nothing to most people.
But Borlaug – along with other researchers who create the Green Revolution in food production – saved between two hundred million people and one billion people, depending on how you do the math.
Norman Borlaug spent decades with the Rockefeller Foundation in Mexico cross-breeding grain varieties to produce a new disease-resistant dwarf strain of wheat that transformed agriculture, especially in the third world.
Previously, nations from Turkey to Mexico to India were rocked regularly by crop failures. Too much or too little rain, heat or cold could plunge entire nations into famine, war or revolution.
In the 1960’s, Borlaug introduced new strains that absorbed more nitrogen and thus grew faster. Previously, plants that grew faster just fell over and rotted, but Borlaug cross bred them with shorter “dwarf” plants with hardy thick stalks that could stand up to high nitrogen absorption. The result was fast-growing, disease-resistant plants perfect for unstable climates. He also introduced backcrossing techniques that increased their disease resistance through selective breeding.
Most importantly, he was focused on using these techniques specifically to alleviate starvation in the developing world. His goal was always to attack famine, not merely to improve margins in agribusiness.
His impact was immediate and dramatic.
When his seeds were used widely in 1963, Mexico instantly went from famine-prone to a wheat-exporter. Their wheat harvest was six times greater after Borlaug was done than before he started his work. Imagine the compromised stability of Canada and the United States if Mexico were still endured regular famines threatening the lives of millions.
Borlaug’s seeds arrived on the sub-continent in 1965 as it was roiling through famine and war. Within five years, the previously starving Pakistan was self-sufficient for grains. India would be self-sufficient within a decade. The two nations were transformed. It is impossible to conceive of the great leaps of Mumbai and Kolkata in an India still experiencing regular famine. Consider the reception of the Taliban in Northern Pakistan if the government could not prevent famine in that region. Food security is a huge contributor to world peace.
… continue reading this article at the Globe and Mail blogs: The death of the greatest human being who ever lived
… Read Borlaug’s biography at Nobelprize.org: Norman Borlaug, The Nobel Peace Prize 1970