Norman Borlaug is dead – I should have known who he was.

Norman Borlaug saved between 200 million and 1 billion people, depending on the math.

Norman Borlaug saved between 200 million and 1 billion people, depending on the math.

Our thanks to BFP reader Throckmorton for posting the link to this story as a comment.

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 Norman Borlaug, The Nobel Peace Prize 1970


Filed under Agriculture, Barbados

11 responses to “Norman Borlaug is dead – I should have known who he was.

  1. Mobutu

    Norman Borlaug was truly an outstanding agricultural researcher. But the Green Revolution he helped to launch from research institutes in Mexico, India and the Philippines developed new seeds and irrigation/pesticide technologies for Latin America, South Asia and South-east Asia. Africa was initially left out of these developments and subsequently had to secure UN assistance in adapting the methods of the Green Revolution to creating new strains of food crops suited to African conditions. Why, therefore, is BFP showing a picture of Norman in Africa surrounded by African children? Why not show him in Mexico or India?


    BFP says,

    Sorry. We’re not that smart or intuitive. We found the picture online. We liked it. We used it.

    But you’re right, Mobutu. Perhaps our choice of photo was some sinister plot. We’ll get back to you when we figure out exactly what our plot is.

  2. Duppy Lizard

    BFP – I love your response to Mobutu.

  3. Rumboy

    Great story, one of the best that you have brought to our attention in a long time, in my opinion.

  4. reality check

    What an incredible inspiration that one person can make such a difference.

    There are many many people, including in Barbados, that are doing good works every day.

    Lets have more stories like this one BFP.

  5. photoshop guru

    still living the lie. The dishonesty of this blog knows no end.


    BFP says…

    oooooohhhh! Yes, we admit the photo is a conspiracy!!!! Yes, we did it!!!! Deliberately!!!!

    Now would you kindly tell us how, exactly, our choice of photo is some sort of conspiracy?

    Please… if you’re going to smoke herb, shut down your PC first. Okay?

  6. Throckmorton

    I was perusing another area that recently concerned me, that of percentage debts to GDP in countries of this world. In the following link it seems Barbados (80%) has a higher debt to GDP ratio than the USA (60%). In fact we are one of the highest on the list.

    One hears talk every day about how the USA will take a generation to pay back their debt and that our children will be saddled with debt burden and that our/their taxes must rise dramatically, and the standard of living must drop in order to be sustainable.

    Do the above opinions apply to us?

    How will we feed the 270,000 inhabitants of Barbados? What will happen if the US economy, and the world economy, and the Barbados economy, lapse into some psycho debt-caused recession and lack of money? Will it? Could it? Do we want to risk it?

    Is one naive to make this comparison, to ask this question and to make this suggestion? One need not be talking about the IMF and taxes, or the deficit of spending above income. This is about the good and welfare, ie the feeding of the masses of Barbados.

    Listen to me: we are also one of the most densely populated countries in the world. It is time for us to spend more than an iota of time thinking about the future, and the possibilities that we too could one day have famine.

  7. Living in Barbados

    @Throckmorton, there’s a lot of hot air about IMF prescriptions: most times it’s simple good housekeeping rules, such as ‘try to live within your means’. Or ‘you cannot get something for nothing’.

    Barbados’ public sector debt/GDP ratio is now over 100% and is fast approaching 125%. If it is not clear, that means the debt owed to Barbadian and foreign citizens is more than the income the country produces. It’s a measure of how burdened the people are and of future obligations.

    The real burden now though is the ratio of debt service to GDP or exports, i.e., how much is the debt due to be paid relative to the money you have coming in. That stands at about 3.6% this year but goes to 5.6% next year. In terms of debt service to government revenues, it is 8.6% of GDP this year but rises to 13.3% next year.

    It does not mean sack cloth and ashes. But, you only get comfort if you know that these ratios are likely to fall because of policy already taken or to be taken.

    The IMF’s recommendations are largely about getting those debt numbers down, because its analysis shows that the situation is ‘unsustainable’. The government does not agree with the Fund’s recommendations, but I have not seen any counter proposals or any argument saying that the government thinks the situation is ‘sustainable’.

    It takes a long while for money to ‘run out’ and governments have special privileges, not least getting the central bank to print more, or to extend overdrafts. If those things happen then it’s “Orville Citizen” who will pay the price either with higher inflation or some claim for higher taxes later or suffering spending cuts. You cannot have cake and eat it too. You can try and you can try, but it cannot be done.

    I have not even talked about private sector debt and how individuals are living beyond their means. Remember, that is really the origin of the current financial crisis, made worse by lenders being unscrupulous. But the bottom line was too much private debt.

    Read the Fund’s report. The Fund urges countries to publish them so that people can see for themselves more of what’s going on. See

  8. PiedPiper

    Hey Photoshop Guru, here’s another one for you.

  9. Living in Barbados

    @Throckmorton, I’ve asked a Bajan who has tried to do a lot with agriculture in Bim to read your remarks and offer some comments.

  10. Throckmorton

    Thanks for the info about the debt servicing. It seems we do not have as high of a repayment schedule as it could be. But as you say, it is rising, not falling, and the actual principle will take a long time to pay off. Maybe when times get better we should look to reduce it instead of the reverse.

    Going back on track to food production we should have more education in Barbados, to try to induce all persons who have any space at all, to cultivate something. It could be the pumpkin seeds, it could be a tire garden, or a pet bottle recycle garden. Anything is good.

    But these things will not make Barbados food independant like India or the USA. In the USA the food is cheap, here it is extremely expensive. Many people cannot afford to eat healthily. It certainly would be very enlightening hearing from an agronomist on these things with regard to self sustainability not dependant upon importation. Thank you.

    Looking out into the fields of Barbados they are half fallow these days. Awaiting subdivision rather than food production. What would it take for owners to grow something on agricultural lands?

  11. Living in Barbados

    A Bajan acquaintance who has been involved in local agricultural development sent the following. I reproduce his points as given to me. They are his points not mine:

    We will never be self sufficient in agriculture – we only eat macaroni and cheese – chicken
    we do not produce macaroni or cheese!!! and the chicken too expensive

    The ministry had a list of commodities we could be self sufficient in –
    sweet potato
    There was never a co-ordinated plan

    Government plantations plant sugar
    the BAS has no land
    we know the soil types
    we know the fertilizer requirements –
    but that is too easy to follow through on (Call Eastern Fertiliser in St John)