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Feeding the World Man behind ‘Green Revolution’ turns 90
The Monitor ^ | March 25,2004

Posted on 03/28/2004 8:18:26 PM PST by SwinneySwitch

Four decades ago, scientific doomsayers painted a bleak picture of the future. They claimed the world would be wracked by famine because dwindling resources would not be enough to feed an exploding population. They said nothing could stave off the looming famine. Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, predicted in the 1968 book that hundreds of millions of people would starve to death in the 1970s and ’80s.

One man proved them wrong — Dr. Norman Borlaug. The Nobel Peace-Prize-winning agronomist, who turns 90 today, is the man behind the “Green Revolution” — the boom in crop productivity and farming techniques that saved the Third World from starvation. Instead of experiencing massive famine, countries such as India and Pakistan were able to feed themselves, with enough wheat left over to export to other countries.

Borlaug grew up on an Iowa farm and graduated from the University of Minnesota. The seeds of his Green Revolution took root in Mexico, where Borlaug began his work in 1944, looking at ways to increase wheat production for Mexican farmers.

Borlaug and his fellow scientists developed strains of wheat more resistant to pests and diseases that yielded more grain. His research helped growers in Mexico more than double their yields over the next two decades, according to his biography on the Web site

Borlaug’s project flowered in the 1960s, when he and his staff took the new wheat to India and Pakistan. “Production quadrupled in a decade; by today that increase is tenfold,” according to He then introduced high-yield strains of rice to Asia, helping feed growing populations in that part of the world.

And Borlaug’s labors still bear fruit today. The scientist, a professor at Texas A&M University, still serves as a consultant for the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico. He’s also president of the Sasakawa Africa Association, a Japanese foundation working to increase food production in sub-Saharan Africa.

Without Borlaug’s efforts to increase crop yields over the past six decades, our world today would be a lot different. Scientists estimate Borlaug’s work helped save more than 1 billion people from starvation. It’s important to note that, contrary to the gloom-and-doom predictions from alarmists, the only famines that occurred since the 1960s were the result of wars or politically oppressive governments, such as in North Korea today.

The most important lesson we can take from Borlaug’s work is that we shouldn’t fear scientific progress. The agronomist — just like the farmers he taught — was quick to embrace any technology that would increase crop yields.

In addition to cross breeding different strains of edible plants, Borlaug embraced judicious use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides as means to boost production.

“Look,” he said in the April 2000 issue of Reason magazine, “insecticides, herbicides and fertilizer cost money, and the farmer doesn’t have much margin. … He’s going to try to use the minimum amount that he can get by with.”

With the world’s population still increasing, Borlaug advocates feeding them with genetically modified crops. As he told Reason, Biotechnology will help us do things that we couldn’t do before, and do it in a more precise and safe way.”

Not enough people, especially in the United States, are aware of what Norman Borlaug has done for mankind. We can’t begin to repay him, but we can say thank you. So happy birthday, Dr. Borlaug. The entire world owes you its gratitude.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; US: Texas
KEYWORDS: cresco; greenrevolution; iowa; normanborlaug; obituary; paulehrlich
Happy birthday, Dr. Borlaug and thanks!
1 posted on 03/28/2004 8:18:27 PM PST by SwinneySwitch
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To: SwinneySwitch
Texas Aggie bump!
2 posted on 03/28/2004 8:22:18 PM PST by DallasMike
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To: SwinneySwitch
Ahh yes -- the "Ugly Americans" are evil and cruel and care only for money.

We have fed and clothed the world and brought the quality of life up for all the people.

But according to john kerry and the dnc, acp, and other far leftist radical groups - all we want is to destroy and enslave everyone
3 posted on 03/28/2004 8:26:57 PM PST by steplock (
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To: SwinneySwitch
A real hero who actually DID SOMETHING to solve a problem instead of writing gloomy books and begging for donations to pet greenie organisations.
4 posted on 03/28/2004 8:27:23 PM PST by Army Air Corps (Communism failed because people like to own stuff)
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To: SwinneySwitch
Bump to the top!
5 posted on 03/28/2004 8:30:36 PM PST by Mitchell
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To: steplock
Indeed. Further proof that "no good deed goes unpunished." We stop the Nazis from ruling Europe and rebuild half that continent only to have the Frogs and the Germans bicker about supposed US cultural imperialism. We provide much of the world's goods and services and UN weenies tell us to curb our productivity and scale-back our economy. Like Yogurt the Great said, "What a World!"
6 posted on 03/28/2004 8:35:33 PM PST by Army Air Corps (Communism failed because people like to own stuff)
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To: SwinneySwitch
We Can Feed the World. Here's How
Wall Street Journal
By Norman Borlaug
May 13, 2002

Thirty-two years ago, I was chosen to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, representing the thousands of researchers who created the higher crop yields of the Green Revolution. The extra food created saved perhaps a billion people from starving in the 1960s.

Today, we are faced with another, equally enormous task. We must learn to produce nearly three times as much food for the more populous and more prosperous world of 2050, and from the farmland we are already using, in order to save the planet's wildlands. That's why I am one of the signers of a new declaration in support of protecting nature with high-yield farming and forestry. (Co-signatories include former Sen. George McGovern and Per Pinstrup-Andersen, the winner of the 2001 World Food Prize.)

The high yields of the Green Revolution also had a dramatic conservation effect: saving millions of acres of wildlands all over the Third World from being cleared for more low-yield crops. If the world were still getting the low crop and livestock yields of 1950, at least half of today's 16 million square miles of global forest would already have been plowed down, and the rest would be scheduled for destruction in the next three decades. Mexico, where I have done much of my high-yield research, is nevertheless losing nearly 3 million acres of forest per year to the expansion of peasant farms.

There are people telling us not to raise the yields. Some of them say that modern food is not as healthy as yesterday's, though science can find no lack of nutrients and, all over the world, the people eating modern crops are growing taller and living longer. There are some who still fear that more food encourages population growth, though food security has helped bring Third World fertility rates 80% of the way to stability.

Some of the naysayers claim that modern, intensive farming is risking the world's biodiversity. However, they apparently think it's more important to save man-made biodiversity, such as antique farmers' varieties, than to save the rich web of unique species characteristic of a wild forest. We can save the farmers' old varieties through gene banks and small-scale gene farms, without locking up half of the planet's arable land as a low-yield gene museum.

I've spent the past 20 years trying to bring the Green Revolution to Africa -- where the farmers use traditional seeds and the organic farming systems that some call "sustainable." But low-yield farming is only sustainable for people with high death rates, and thanks to better medical care, more babies are surviving.

The International Food Policy Research Institute recently projected that Africa is a "building catastrophe." African farms are currently locked in a downward spiral, in which the traditional bush fallow periods are shortened from 15 or 20 years to as little as two or three -- which means crop yields are declining, soil nutrients are depleted, and still more land must be planted every year to feed the people.

Africa desperately needs the simple, effective high-yield farming systems that have made the First World's food supply safe and secure, and kept its wild species from extinction: chemical fertilizers, improved seeds bred for local conditions, and integrated pest management (with pesticides). Without those basics, Africa is likely to see tens of millions more undernourished children by 2020 -- even after it clears a whole Texas worth of wildlife habitat for additional cropland. Yet the funding for the FutureHarvest agricultural research network that serves the whole Third World is only about $300 million per year.

If America were losing wildlands equal to the size of Texas, we'd believe it was an urgent problem. We'd demand an increase in agricultural research and a crash program to get new technology to farms. If millions of U.S. children were starving for the simple lack of good seeds and fertilizers, the government would fall.

The declaration that I, and others, have signed does not endorse any particular technology or farming system. It simply notes that if the world is to avoid a Hobson's choice between starving children and extinct wildlife species, the first-order priority is higher yields on the land we already farm.


Dr. Borlaug, winner of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize, teaches high-yield farming systems under the sponsorship of the Sasakawa-2000 Foundation and the Jimmy Carter Center.
7 posted on 03/28/2004 8:45:07 PM PST by Uncle Miltie (Leave Pat Leave!)
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To: SwinneySwitch
Published in Wall Street Journal—December 6, 2000

We Need Biotech to Feed the World

by Dr. Norman Borlaug

Science is under attack in affluent nations, where antibiotech activists claim consumers are being poisoned by inorganic fertilizers and synthetic pesticides. They also claim that newer genetic engineering technologies decrease biodiversity and degrade the environment. Neither claim is true, but fear-mongering could be disastrous for less-developed nations.

Recently, in India, I confronted a move to outlaw inorganic, synthetic fertilizers. Government officials had been influenced by a cadre of international foes of technology. Officials told me that although Indian agriculture had greatly benefited from the use of such fertilizers in its Green Revolution—by which India achieved self-sufficiency in grain in the 1970s—they were now concerned that these products might have long-term negative effects. They wanted to revert to the exclusive use of so-called organic fertilizers.

They were correct about one thing—India has been the beneficiary of modern agricultural techniques. In the mid-1960s, both Pakistan and India saw widespread famine. I managed to persuade both governments to try the highly productive dwarf wheat and the improved integrated crop management practices that my colleagues and I developed at the International Maize and Wheat Center in Mexico.

The results speak for themselves: In 1965, wheat yields were 4.6 million tons in Pakistan and 12.3 million in India. By 1970, after the introduction of our new wheat, Pakistan produced nearly twice its amount, while India increased its yield to 20 million tons. The trend continues. This year Pakistan harvested 21 million tons, and India 73.5 million—all-time records.

This salutary trend will be reversed if misguided bureaucrats have their way. Such a law as India proposed would have seriously diminished the country's ability to feed its one billion people. Famine would again rear its ugly head.

The citizens of affluent nations may be able to pay more for food produced by "natural" or "organic" methods. The chronically undernourished people of impoverished nations cannot. They also cannot afford to have the promise of new agricultural technology nipped in the bud, as many antibiotechnology activists wish.

The latter have been agitating about the supposed threats to human health engendered by bioengineered foods. But such foods pose no greater threat to health than foods produced by conventional methods—probably even less. While activists inveigh against introducing a gene from one plant or one species into another, they fail to note that conventional breeders have been doing just that for many years.

Today we do it better. In the past, conventional plant breeders were forced to bring unwanted genes along with desirable ones when incorporating insect or disease resistance in a new crop variety. The extra genes often had negative effects, and it took years of crossbreeding and selection to oust them. Conventional plant breeding is crude in comparison to the methods being used in genetic engineering, where we move one or a few genes that we know are useful. We must do a better job of explaining such complexities to the general public, so people will not be vulnerable to antibiotech distortions.

Some environmental extremists bewail the use of genetic modification that allows crops to be herbicide resistant, or others that allow plants to produce their own insecticide. Among other charges, they suggest that herbicide resistance might be passed to wild relatives of the crops, and that insecticide-producing plants will decimate insect life and decrease biodiversity.

The truth is that resistance genes bred into crops by conventional means could also be spread to wild relatives by Mother Nature herself. Steps can be taken to minimize the possibility of that happening. Further, the suggestion that insecticide-producing plants will wipe out insects like Monarch butterflies is truly far-fetched. The most likely threat to the butterflies is a reduction of their winter habitat by encroaching land development in Mexico.

What the activists don't want people to know is that one very good way to protect wildlife habitat is to ensure that marginal lands are not pressed into agricultural service in an attempt to feed burgeoning populations. In 1960 in the U.S., the production of the 17 most important food, feed, and fiber crops was 252 million tons. By 1999 it had increased to 700 million tons. It is important to note that the 1999 harvest was produced on 10 million fewer acres than were cultivated in 1960. If we had tried to produce the harvest of 1999 with the technology of 1960, we would have had to increase the cultivated area by about 460 million acres of land of the same quality—which we didn't have.

It is this type of arithmetic that is so important when considering how to feed the world's ever-increasing population. In 1914, when I was born, there were about 1.6 billion people in the world. Now it's about six billion, and we're adding about 85 million each year. We will not be able to feed the people of this millennium with the current agricultural techniques and practices. To insist that we can is a delusion that will condemn millions to hunger, malnutrition and starvation, as well as to social, economic and political chaos.

I visited Russia recently and spent some time at the newly renamed N.I. Vavilov Institute of Genetics and Crop Breeding in St. Petersburg. As I was leaving the conference room, a professor emeritus pulled me aside and pointed to the red chair at the head of the conference table, which was unoccupied during our meeting. "That's where Trofim Lysenko sat for 12 years when he destroyed our agricultural research programs and sent many of our top scientists to prison camps."

T.D. Lysenko, of course, was the pseudo-geneticist who insisted that Soviet agriculture must be run along politically correct party lines. Many who disagreed with Lysenko, including N.I. Vavilov, perished in prison camps. I fear that, like Lysenko, those ideologically opposed to technological advances will unduly influence our government and developing nations, as they have almost succeeded in doing in India. If they do, our prospects for feeding the world will be dim indeed.

I believe the world will be able to produce the food needed to feed the projected population of about 8.3 billion in the year 2025. I also believe that it can be done with little negative impact on the environment. But it cannot be attained without permitting the use of technologies now available, or without research to further improve and utilize new technologies, including biotechnology and recombinant DNA.

Dr. Norman Borlaug, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his accomplishments in agriculture, is a professor at Texas A&M University.

8 posted on 03/28/2004 8:52:16 PM PST by Uncle Miltie (Leave Pat Leave!)
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To: SwinneySwitch
Hmmmm...I wonder what the enviro-facists have to say about using modern ag techniques vs low ag techniques, but converting many times more wild land to do so?
9 posted on 03/28/2004 9:08:32 PM PST by TheDon (John Kerry, self proclaimed war criminal, Democratic Presidential nominee)
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To: farmfriend
10 posted on 03/28/2004 10:07:57 PM PST by Libertarianize the GOP (Ideas have consequence)
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To: TheDon
Notice how wheat and wheat-based foods have become politically suspect among certain groups of food facsists?
11 posted on 03/29/2004 2:03:31 AM PST by NaughtiusMaximus (I could never vote for a guy with a chin like that.)
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