Sunday, September 13, 2009

RIP Norman Borlaug

Nobel Laureate Norman Borlaug (1914-2009) with wife Margaret.

ASHINGTON: Norman Borlaug, the father of the ‘Green Revolution’, died in Texas on Saturday, 12 Sept. He helped Pakistan, India and Mexico achieve food self-sufficiency in the 1960s.

Mr Borlaug led the Green Revolution while working on semi-dwarf, high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties in Mexico. In the mid-20th century, he worked with the governments of Mexico, India and Pakistan to introduce a combination of modern agricultural production techniques and his new high-yield wheat varieties.

As a result, Mexico became a net exporter of wheat by 1963. Between 1965 and 1970, wheat yields nearly doubled in Pakistan and India, greatly improving the food security in the subcontinent.

These collective increases in yield have been labelled the Green Revolution and Mr Borlaug is often credited with saving over a billion people from starvation.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 in recognition of his contributions to world peace through increasing food supply.

Mr Borlaug was one of only five people in history to score the feat of winning the Nobel Peace Prize, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal – placing him in the company of the Rev Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and Elie Wiesel.
He was also named by Time magazine in 1999 as one of the 100 most influential minds of the 20th century.

In the early 1960s, India and Pakistan were confronting famine and Mr Borlaug was asked to help. He planted demonstration plots of the new dwarf variety, but was unable to convince the state-owned seed companies to adopt them.

By 1965, however, famine in the region was so bad that the governments acquiesced. Mr Borlaug organised a shipment of 35 truckloads of dwarf wheat seeds. Because of customs problems, the seeds couldn’t be shipped from Mexico in time for planting, so he sent them to a port in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, the $100,000 cheque drawn on the Pakistani ministry bounced because of three misspelled words on its face.

Ultimately, the cargo ship set sail for Karachi and Mumbai but before they reached their destinations, India and Pakistan went to war.

Despite these problems, he succeeded in planting the new varieties in the two countries. Consequently, the new crop was 98 per cent bigger than the previous year.

India ordered 18,000 tons of seed from Mexico and the harvest was so big that there was a shortage of labour to harvest it.

By 1968, Pakistan was self-sufficient in food production. India joined it in 1974.

Mr Borlaug, a Norwegian-American, was born on March 25, 1914, in Cresco, Iowa.

He received his PhD in plant pathology and genetics from the University of Minnesota in 1942 and took up an agricultural research position in Mexico, where he developed the new varieties of wheat.

Mr Borlaug is survived by his wife, the former Margaret G. Gibson, daughter Jeanie Borlaug Laube, son William Gibson Borlaug, five grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.

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