A humanist first

Dr Borlaug’s science was born of the desire to end hunger

Published on Business Standard, by , September 15, 2009.

The world owes a huge debt to Norman E Borlaug, who passed away at 95 in Texas on Saturday. Dr Borlaug, as is well known, was the agricultural scientist who triggered what came to be called the Green Revolution in several countries, by breeding high-yielding wheat seeds. But he was more than that, for he was first a humanist who campaigned relentlessly for eradicating world hunger. He gave up a promising career in DuPont to take up an assignment with the Rockefeller Foundation in Mexico, to conceive strategies for combating hunger in that country. It was this challenge that made him realise the need for raising crop yields through better seeds and production technologies.  

His natural instinct as a person born and brought up in the early part of his life on a farm stood him in good stead in evolving dwarf wheat strains that could give high yields when combined with fertiliser and irrigation. But he did not stop there, for he went on to take up the bigger challenge of helping farmers grow those seeds and of convincing governments of the countries beset with recurring famines to promote these seeds and the new production technology. These efforts bore fruit and countries like Mexico and India managed to become self-sufficient in food.

Hailed in India as the father of the Green Revolution – a term which he did not particularly like, perhaps because the word revolution was attached to it and he was a man of peace – Dr Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, on the premise that providing bread would also give the world peace. But the truth also was that this was the only way to recognise his momentous contribution to agriculture as there was no provision for any Nobel Prize in the agricultural sciences. This lacuna was later made up by Dr Borlaug himself by instituting the World Food Prize. India honoured him with a Padma Vibhushan … (full text).

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