Norman Borlaug

Dr. Norman Borlaug

Here I want to bring a little bit of attention to the greatest hero that you have never heard of, Norman Borlaug. What did he do that was so great. He only saved about a billion people from starvation. I know that is not quite as important as the latest celebrity antics but I think he deserves more recognition than he has gotten.

Borlaug lived from 1914-2009. He was an agronomist. He worked with wheat in Mexico, producing dwarfed varieties that had thicker stems, which effectively double the yield. He brought his expertise and his dwarf wheat to India and Pakistan averting the mass starvation predicted by Paul Ehrlich and other Malthusians. From there, he played a key role in launching the Green Revolution which helped to feed millions of people in Asia and Africa.

Naturally the environmentalists hated him. They tried to prevent his work in Africa. They condemned his methods as producing unnatural and possibly harmful crossbreeds. They objected to his bringing  large-scale agriculture to poor countries, which led to profits to large agricultural companies, and incidentally helped lift the subsidence farmers out of poverty. They didn’t like the development that his methods brought to previously undeveloped regions because roads, etc hurt the environment. Borlaug didn’t have much patience for this kind of criticism.

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

Norman Borlaug did get some recognition during his life. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, back when the Peace Prize was actually awarded to people who promoted peace. He also won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and a Congressional Gold Medal in 2006. Still, it would be a nobler world if his name were a household word.

Here is an interview which appeared in reason.com in 2000.

 

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