Norman Borlaug is certainly not a household name. But he should be. A man of utmost importance who always displayed tremendous humility, Borlaug passed away this weekend at the age of 95. Dr. Borlaug was a plant scientist and his “breeding of high-yielding crop varieties helped to avert mass famines that were widely predicted in the 1960s, altering the course of history. Largely because of his work, countries that had been food deficient, like Mexico and India, became self-sufficient in producing cereal grains.”
Greg Conko, Senior Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, has more:
Perhaps Borlaug’s biggest contribution was the development of an accelerated breeding schedule he called “shuttle breeding,” which let him improve the genetic composition of his wheat lines twice as quickly as with normal breeding. Despite opposition from fellow plant breeders who insisted this couldn’t be done, Borlaug and his team would grow one generation of plants at the higher elevations around Mexico City during the summer, and then grow a second generation at sea level some 700 miles to the north near the Sonoran coast during the winter. Not only did shuttle breeding work, by doubling the progress of Borlaug’s breeding schedule, it also had the fortunate, but unintended side effect of producing wheat strains that were not sensitive the amount of light received each day, as nearly all other plant breeds are.
In just four years, Mexico went from importing almost all the wheat its people consumed to being self-sufficient in wheat production. Borlaug continued working in Mexico, but by the 1960s, his reputation had spread around the world. He was called on first to travel to India and Pakistan to help improve wheat production there. And after a stunning success, he went on to the Philippines and China, where his innovative breeding methods were used to raise yields in the rice varieties consumed by roughly half the world’s population. By the 1980s, Borlaug teamed up with Japanese billionaire philanthropist Ryoichi Sasakawa to try to spread the Green Revolution to Africa. Wherever he went, the combination of better plant varieties, along with agricultural chemicals such as anhydrous ammonia and other inorganic fertilizers, and synthetic herbicides and insecticides, have helped to more than triple wheat yields in less developed countries since the 1950s.”
He deservedly won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work. Borlaug is a very important example of what innovation and ingenuity can do to change the lives of millions. He is what George Mason economist Don Boudreaux calls a “genuine hero of humanity.”