Father of Green Revolution Dies: Norman Borlaug, 1914-2009

“When wheat is ripening properly, when the wind is blowing across the field, you can hear the beards of the wheat rubbing together. They sound like the pine needles in a forest. It is a sweet, whispering music that once you hear, you never forget.”
-Norman Borlaug-

Norman Borlaug is credited with saving 245 million lives. That’s a lot of lives – especially for a seemingly nondescript plant scientist. Borlaug developed semi-dwarf high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties. What does that mean?

It meant that the plants were more resistance to bacterial predators. Borlaug’s techniques, combined with modern agricultural production, improved food security and increased food supply in countries including Mexico, Pakistan and India, saving people there from starvation. China has adopted similar techniques to become the industrial giant it is.

Borlaug’s life was not without some controversy: there were arguments over the social and environmental consequences of his “Green Revolution.” As the New York Times reports, “many critics on the left attacked it, saying it displaced smaller farmers, encouraged over-reliance on chemicals and paved the way for greater corporate control of agriculture.” (Read the Times’ entire obituary for Borlaug here).

Unfortunately, sometimes the best scientific breakthroughs pass through to new hands who meld them into tools to achieve detrimental ends. Borlaug simply wanted to teach the world how to feed itself.
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