Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Norman Borlaug: “The Man That Saved a Billion Lives”

by Toby Benham

Born on the 25th March 1914, Norman Borlaug has been described as the man that has saved more human lives than anyone who has ever lived. This truly inspirational man devoted his life to help solving world hunger by developing new types of wheat. He was quoted saying, “We are 6.6 billion people now. We can feed 4 billion. I don’t see 2 billion volunteers to disappear”. As well as being the labelled “the father of the green revolution”, Borlaug won the Nobel peace prize in 1970.

After growing up in Iowa, Borlaug went to the University of Minnesota to study Forestry, in between two stints working for the US forestry service. He later returned to the University to do a masters and PhD in plant pathology. This led to him taking a job in Mexico as geneticist and plant pathologist. Not only did this move mean leaving his job at highly respected chemical company DuPont (who had offered to double his salary), he temporarily left behind his pregnant wife and young daughter. His work in Mexico included research in genetics, plant breeding, plant pathology, entomology, agronomy, soil science and cereal technology. This was very successful leading to production of a high yielding, short strawed, disease resistant wheat. He arranged for the new cereal strains to be put into extensive production.

His work was especially influential in India and Pakistan. In fact, between 1965 and 1970, wheat yields nearly doubled in these countries, helping to provide security for feeding expanding populations. Prime Minister Singh and President Patil, both of India, paid tribute saying, “ Borlaug’s life and achievement are testimony to the far reaching contribution that one man’s towering intellect, persistence and scientific vision can make to human peace and progress”.

He died at the age of 95 in 2009 to lymphoma. I hope that after reading this that you can appreciate what an extraordinary man Norman Borlaug was, as well as the great contribution he made not only to science, but to the world’s population. One of the greatest scientists and humanitarians that has ever lived; “the man that saved a billion lives”.