Sunday, September 13, 2009
Remembering Norman Borlaug
I just learned that Norman Borlaug has died. He was at Texas A&M while I was there, although he didn't teach classes and was constantly travelling, speaking at conferences or to politicians. He was in his late 80s and early 90s when I met him, yet he still worked harder than most of the professors.
He had a yearly discussion with the plant breeding students where he would reflect on his past and tell us stories about starting CIMMyT, travelling through India, his efforts to establish farm to market roads in Africa, and his ideas about what we need to do to continue to feed the world.
He was one of the greatest men of our age. Most people don't know who he is, even though he won the Nobel prize, the world food prize, the congressional and presidential medal of honor.
Norman Borlaug developed semidwarf wheat, which shortened the plants while increasing yields. Simultaneously introducing disease resistance and eliminating photoperiod response helped make his varieties adaptable around the world. Using his ideas semidwarf rice and sorghum are also grown worldwide. He wasn't alone in this effort, but because of that worldwide yields have more than doubled. I read once that yields in parts of India and Central America have increased 5 times because of Norman's work. He also was an unwavering advocate for mechanization, chemical fertilizer, development of genetic pest resistance, and use of chemical pesticides and herbicides. Modern agriculture reflects his views. The modern world exists because his ideas worked.
My 2005 post after meeting him at A&M.
The Wikipedia entry on Norman Borlaug.