Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tribute Dr. Norman Borlaug Z"L

Today I read that an icon of my first career as a plant/soil ecologist died at the ripe old age of 95.

Dr. Norman Borlaug, called the father of the Green Revolution, died yesterday after a long and fulfilling life. He won the Nobel Prize in 1970 for his agricultural work in Mexico.

His work resulted in agricultural advances that saved millions from starvation and made it possible for countless millions more to come to be.

The Green Revolution made it possible for countries such as Mexico and India to become self-sufficient with respect to agriculture through the use of nitrogen fertilizers, and integrated pest management.

Dr. Borlaug did not see his work as transformative, but rather as "a step in the right direction" for agriculture.

According to Greg Easterbrook, writing for the Atlantic Monthly, despite the clear benefits for poor people worldwide:

". . . by the 1980s finding fault with high-yield agriculture had become fashionable. Environmentalists began to tell the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and Western governments that high-yield techniques would despoil the developing world. As Borlaug turned his attention to high-yield projects for Africa, where mass starvation still seemed a plausible threat, some green organizations became determined to stop him there." (cited below).

However, Dr. Borlaug lived and worked in countries that directly benefited from the Green Revolution, where he observed directly the real-life consequences of primitive agricultural practices. About environmental lobbyists he observed:

"Some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They've never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things." (Easterbrook, G. (1997). Forgotten Benefactor of Humanity. The Atlantic Monthly, Online Edition).

I was fortunate to hear Dr. Borlaug speak years ago at a seminar at the University of Illinois. Seldom have I had the privilege of being in the presence of a scientist whose work has made such a profound difference to so many. He has, as Easterbrook so ably put it, "saved more lives than any other person who has ever lived."

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